Category Archives: Coffee Shop Talk

You Had Me at Hello

Day One

Jerry Maguire is a classic! I think besides, “Show me the money,” my favorite line is “You had me at hello.” And in the same monologue, he says “You complete me.” And yes, the lines are a little cheesy, but that’s what we remember from movies! And that’s what gets preserved in pop culture. My favorite movies to watch these days are Hallmark movies. My absolute favorite is the Hallmark Christmas movies. We look forward to them every year.

There’s just something about a good love story that keeps people coming back. Even when it’s an action flick, there’s usually always some kind of love interest in the movie. And Hollywood knows that. They know that we all long to see the couple get together and live happily ever after. It’s wired into our DNA as humans. We all long for love. And it’s not just romantic love. We long for relationships. We long to be connected.

And the Mission statement for our church reflects that. We are committed to connecting with God and with people around the table and in the community. That’s what God wants. He wants us to be in a healthy relationship (connected) with Him. And He wants us to be in a healthy relationship (connected) with each other in the church. But He doesn’t stop there. Our entire mission as the church is to go out and help OTHER people get connected with God and with people in the church…There’s only one problem…We’re all broken…We’re selfish…

And our entire American culture is built around thinking about ourselves and our own personal happiness. That is a result of the Fall, which we’ll talk about in the next chapter. But it’s not all doom and gloom. There’s still a LOT of good out there. But in order to restore what’s broken, we need to learn what a healthy relationship looks like. With all the brokenness, it’s hard to know where to start.

But that’s where Genesis Chapter 2 comes in. Last time, we learned about the Creation week in Chapter 1. God created everything in 6 days and rested on the 7th day. And we learned that we (people) are the Crown Jewel of His creation. We learned that we were created in the image of God. We were created to be in charge of God’s creation. But we were also created to have a healthy relationship with God. As His children, created in His image, we have the ability to fellowship with God, to talk to Him. We also reflect His character in a lot of ways.

And in Chapter 2, what we get is a blown-up picture of the creation of man. It’s a supplementary account of the creation of man. It’s like we already took the broad shot of the movie scene and now were shooting the close-up so we can get a good look at what’s going on. So there’s no contradiction. These two chapters are side by side for a reason. He’s finished with the big picture of creation and now He’s narrowing His focus on us. So today’s message is called “You had me at hello.” But before we look at that account in chapter two, I felt the need to share one of God’s deleted scenes from chapter 2. Any good DVD has deleted scenes. Right?

God walked up to Adam one day and said, “Adam, it’s not good that you’re alone. I’m going to create something for you that’s going to blow your socks off! This creature will do everything for you. It will wait on you hand and foot. It will cook and clean for you. It will do all your chores, take care of your kids, and it’ll say whatever you want it to. It will build your spirits up all the time with positive energy and uplifting comments.

 It will never disagree with you. It will literally worship the ground you walk on, kiss your feet, and then apologize for walking on the same ground you walk on. Adam, this is the super deluxe model. I’m calling it Wonder Woman. But…it’s going to cost you.” And with a concerned look Adam replied, “What’s it gonna cost God?” And God said, “It’s gonna cost you an arm and a leg.” After much thought, Adam came back to God and asked, “What can I get for a rib?” (Author Unknown; Hartlaub-ian extras thrown in).

Sorry. That’s one of the few creation jokes I have. I couldn’t resist. We’ll get to the REAL account in just a minute but first we have to summarize the beginning of chapter 2.

These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens. When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up–for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground (Gen.2:4-6 ESV).

So up to this point there was no rain. And there was no one to work the land. This is actually a foreshadowing of the worldwide flood that’s coming, but that’s still in the future…

then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen.2:7-9 ESV).

So now we don’t just have God creating man. Now we have God personally creating man out of the dust of the earth and breathing into him the breath of life. Plus, He didn’t just throw him on the earth. God custom made this garden as a home, ready to go with food and beauty…

A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates (Gen.2:10-14 ESV).

So the location given here probably meant something to the original readers. We know where the Tigris and Euphrates are. But we have no idea about the other rivers or places named here. Most people assume it’s somewhere in modern day Iraq and/or somewhere close to the Persian Gulf. But we really don’t know. It might’ve been completely destroyed by the flood. It might be covered up by a body of water. But the point here is that God set us up for success. He gave us food, a home, He put us in charge of His creation, and He loves us.

Day Two

1. God gave us boundaries for our benefit not to bully us. 

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen.2:15-17 ESV).

So the first relationship that we need to focus on is our relationship with God. If our mission as the church is to connect with God and with people (and if we want to fulfill the Great Commission of Jesus, which is to make disciples), our first priority HAS to be to have a healthy relationship with God. And what is the recipe for a healthy relationship with God? He gives it to us right here in these three verses. We can’t possibly think that we can make healthy disciples or run a healthy church if we’re not first connected to God in a healthy way. It all starts with Him.

And this first sentence is rich with meaning. The word put, in English, is a word that we would probably ignore. But in the original language, it carries with it the sense of rest, safety, and fellowship with God. God put Adam there for good reason. He put him there for rest, safety, and fellowship. Eve wasn’t created yet. There was no fellowship with people yet. But fellowship with God was the first and foremost priority.

It’s like when you bring an infant home from the hospital. You don’t just put them on the floor or outside on the lawn and say Go get a job. No. You put the baby in the crib where it can sleep, rest, poop and pee in its diaper, cry, and be safe. And the parents keep the baby safe. They sing to him and read to him and hold him, but then they put him back in the crib to rest. And then over time (as they baby grows), he can have more and more freedom as he’s able to do more. And that’s kind of what God was doing here with Adam. Wouldn’t it be amazing to have a one on one with God (live in person)? What if you could ask Him anything you wanted, freely talk with Him, and get an answer (live in person)? Adam could do that. He had a sweet deal!

But God didn’t just PUT Adam in the garden, He gave him stuff to do. His responsibility was to take care of that garden. Adam had to go to work! God has always expected us to work. It’s just that before sin entered the world, work was totally enjoyable. In my case, if I was driving kids to school (in the bus), in the Garden of Eden, all of the kids would obey me. It would be a total joy. And no other cars would hit my bus on the way! I wouldn’t have to write any referrals. For you, no matter where you worked, it would be a joy. There would be no workplace gossip, no struggles, no worrying about paying the bills. It would be a JOY to work. Adam had the best job ever. He had great benefits. No healthcare costs. Money wasn’t an issue.

And working the land was also a joy. There were no weeds. There was no frustration. He didn’t even have to water the garden. God took care of watering the garden. For Adam, working the garden was fun. This past week, I was longing for life in the Garden because there was a stubborn stump I couldn’t get out. The tractor wasn’t helping. The chainsaw wouldn’t cut it because the stem was too far underground. Needless to say, it was NOT a joy to work the land that day! That stupid stump is STILL there. I had to cut it off and bury it under the dirt! But Adam was lucky in the beginning because he didn’t have to deal with that! Work was a joy.

But God did give Adam one rule. He gave Adam a TON of freedom. Adam could do almost anything he wanted. He could eat anything he wanted. But God said that that there’s this one tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, that he couldn’t eat from. God said, Just stay away from that one tree and you’ll be fine. But if you eat from it, you’re not going to live forever. You’re eventually going to die. So there was a reason for the rule. God was protecting Adam. Again, it’s like a parent protecting a child. Rules are there for a reason. And they’re actually meant to create a positive result. It’s not to punish us. It’s to protect us.

But what do kids do as soon as we tell them NOT to do something? It’s like the only thing they want to do! As soon as we say they can’t do something, their natural, human response is to want to do what they can’t! That’s all they focus on. And Christians do that too. They focus on the negative. They focus on what they CAN’T do instead of focusing on the incredible FREEDOM that God gives us. It drives me crazy. And it ends up as legalism. Legalism is when we focus so much on what we can’t do that we make up all these rules on what we can’t do. And we make it so clear what we‘re against, that no one knows what we’re FOR. Unfortunately, that leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths when we leave out God’s blessings and His good gifts.

But that wasn’t God’s intention. God gave us boundaries for our benefit not to bully us. He’s not out to get us. He’s not punishing us. He’s protecting us. But there are consequences when we disobey. There are consequences to our actions. When children disobey, the parents have to step in and punish. But it’s for their own good. So the point here is not to focus on the negative. It’s to focus on the positive. Facebook drives me crazy. So many people focus on all the negative stuff (politics, family, and work drama). But my goal is to focus on the positive. I try to post stuff that’s encouraging (except when the Eagles are losing; I do slip up sometimes).

But why did God do that? Why didn’t He just make it all exactly the way He wanted and not allow Adam a choice? People have been asking that question for thousands of years! But part of the answer is because God wanted us to choose love Him. God already loves us. But He wants our love back to be genuine. You can’t have genuine love if the one side has no choice in the matter. That would make us robots. And that was NOT God’s desire. So He gave Adam a choice. He tested him. But we can’t have it both ways. There are consequences to whatever choice we make and whatever choices other people make. God loves us enough to let some people choose to not love Him. Unfortunately, those choices touch all of us in some way (good and bad).

So here’s a recipe for a healthy relationship (connection) with God.

a. Resting in what God provides. Focusing on what we don’t have leads to temptation and running away from God. But if we focus on what He has provided we can relax, enjoy life, and fellowship with God instead of worrying all the time.

b. Serving Him. God didn’t design us all the same. We all have different gifts and personalities. And if we focus on using what He gave us to serve Him and to bring Him glory, our relationship with Him will be healthy. But if we choose selfishness, it leads to a disconnected relationship with God because we’re not living by His design.

c. Being obedient to His will. If He created us, and if He’s our Father (and He is), then He gets to make the rules. But we have to remember it’s for our own good. He’s our Father and He’s looking out for us. So we need to follow and play by His rules. However, the deeper issue is trust. Do we trust God? Do we really believe that He is good (like we talked about last week)? We have to trust that He is good, that He knows best, and that He has a plan. God gave us boundaries for our benefit not to bully us.

Day Three

2. God gave us relationships to complement each other not to compete with each other.

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him (Gen.2:18-20 ESV).

So this could’ve been a bit awkward. I’m picturing the giraffe smiling and winking at Adam. And Adam says, You know, I don’t think it’s gonna work out. You’re up there and I’m down here. How would we kiss and hug? That would just be weird. Or maybe when the skunk came to Adam, he was like, If you spray me every time we have an argument, I’m walking out that door! But seriously, back in chapter one where God was creating, He said that everything He made was good. But in this passage something is NOT good. He says, It is not good that the man should be alone. And there’s a reason for that. We were created as relational creatures. And God is not alone either. It is true that we only have one God. But our God exists as a Tri-Unity (Trinity). He is in perfect relationship with Himself as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But God created us to relate to as well. He wants us to know Him. But He also wants the Crown Jewel of His creation (people) to have a partner to relate to.

And the idea is that man, alone, is incomplete. He’s lacking something. So when God says that He will make a helper for him, that’s what He meant. He meant that the helper (the woman) makes up for what’s lacking in the man. And that’s why that line in Jerry Maguire is not just funny. It’s also profound (You complete me). It’s theologically correct. We need someone to complete us (in marriage). But it also applies to ALL relationships. People need people.

As humans, we weren’t meant to be alone. We are relational creatures. We need friends and family. We can go without the bells and whistles of life. We can go without all the fancy things and newest tech gadgets. But we can’t go without relationships. It’s just as important as food and water. Loneliness is not good. People need people. We need each other. We need to share things with each other and hang out with each other. We need to encourage each other. We need to challenge each other. Otherwise, we might become the Unabomber

Where it goes wrong though is when we try to outdo each other, control each other, and fight for power over each other. God gave us relationships to complement each other not to compete with each other. Relationships aren’t supposed to be competitive. When it comes to sports, I’m very competitive. That’s why family game nights get a little scary. It can get crazy and become not very fun pretty quick when someone’s not winning. And then the rage comes out. So we’ve learned over the years when to stop. We usually have a short window of time where it’s fun, and then it goes downhill quickly.

And no one’s immune from it. Couples compete with each other, even if they don’t realize it. They get caught up in who makes the most money, who does the most work outside or inside the house, and who has the most friends. They compete over power. They give each other the silent treatment when they don’t get their way. They argue. And they get back at each other by trying to manipulate and control each other. It’s crazy. And then it goes really downhill when the competition turns to punishment. If a spouse is withholding something from the other (like money, sex, or anything they like to do together), the one who’s left out starts to look somewhere else to find it. And that leads to a break in the relationship, which is not God’s desire.

Obviously, I know stuff happens (and God knows). My desire is not to make anyone feel guilty. God is gracious and He can make good things come out of bad. However, He wants us to have healthy relationships that last, whether we’re talking about husbands and wives, families, and/or friends. We are relational creatures. We need each other. But God’s desire was for us to complement each other, not compete with each other. And I believe that God’s desire was that we be equal partners in relationships. It’s not about who’s in charge.

It’s about the fact that we need each other. We are all equal. It’s not about who makes the most money or who has the best toys. If we have a lot of cool toys, maybe the best thing to do is to share them for everyone’s good instead of hoarding them for ourselves. And I think that’s why God includes the animals here. God wasn’t expecting an animal to get married to Adam. The point was that Adam was in charge of God’s creation and he had the responsibility of naming the animals. But Adam needed a helper to share his life with. Something was missing. God had to create something else (a helper), just like Adam, but different enough to make up for what was missing. And that’s where the woman comes in.

But before we get to the woman, here’s a good recipe for a healthy relationship (connection) with people. And this is primarily for spouses, but it works for all relationships.

a. Be who YOU are. Every one of us is different. If we were all the same, there would be no need for other people. But we’re NOT self-sufficient. We need people. Other people have things that we don’t and vice versa. So bring what you have to the table and allow your friends, family, and spouse to be who they are. There’s no need to fight for power or prestige. My kids drive me crazy when they ask us who’s better at something. It’s ok if someone is better at something. We all have different things we’re good at. Some of us are good at a LOT of things but not great at anything. Some people are great at one thing only. That’s ok. Celebrate and support each other. It’s not a competition. And we don’t need to force people to be like us or to be something they’re not.

b.Look outside yourself. Whether it’s your spouse, girlfriend, brother, sister, co-worker, use something you’ve been blessed with for the good of someone else. It’s not all about YOU. Make a sacrifice for someone else. Our culture teaches us to look out for number 1. But Jesus said to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt.22:39). And that’s what He did. Jesus left the comforts of heaven and moved into our neighborhood. He made great sacrifices to come here. Plus, He made the ultimate sacrifice on the cross. Paul said to consider other people better than ourselves (Phil.2:3-4). Imagine if we all thought that way. That’s what relationships are all about. It’s about benefitting someone else, not selfishly taking everything for me, myself, and I.

c.Cheer someone on. The world has enough critics and negativity. I’m not saying don’t be honest with people. We do need honesty. But a healthy relationship will consist of friends cheering each other on and supporting each other. It’s ok if someone accomplishes something that YOU don’t. Be happy for them and cheer them on. This is important for spouses too. You guys are on the same team. You were meant to complement each other. So there’s no need to be a critic, compete, or to be jealous.

Day Four

3. God gave us spouses for the long haul not to leave when the going gets tough.

So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed (Gen.2:21-25 ESV).

Martin Luther made a profound observation about this Scripture. He said that in making the woman out of Adam’s rib (out of his side), God was signifying equality. Remember, she was his complement. She made up what was lacking in him and vice versa. So by taking a rib and making Eve, God was stressing that they were a team, they were equal, and they were one flesh. If God would’ve used a foot, He might’ve signified that he was to rule over Eve, but God didn’t do that. You would think that if God took out Adam’s brain it would’ve meant Eve was to rule over him, but He didn’t do that either. Although sometimes men do think with lower parts of their body so it does seem, at times, that we don’t HAVE a brain, but that’s a discussion for another day…

Now Adam did get to name her, just like he got to name the animals. But even the very name signified the equality of their relationship. He called her woman. In Hebrew, ish is the word for man and ishah is the word for woman. They sound related (because they are). It’s a beautiful illustration of the fact that they really do complete each other. And that’s what marriage is all about. It’s an equal partnership between two people, who might have different roles and gifts (just like in any relationship), but equal weight. Marriage was never intended to be a dictatorship where the husband rules and the wife manipulates to get what she wants. That was not God’s design for marriage. It was never a competition or a war. Adam specifically said, This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. He was emphasizing that he recognized that they belonged together as one.

So what comes next in a marriage? They form a new home. When it says they become one flesh it means that they are bonded together as one, in a close relationship (which includes the spiritual, emotional, mental, and the physical). There’s no longer just a me and you. It’s now US. It’s WE. Leaving father and mother means they are establishing a new home. It doesn’t mean they forget mom and dad. But they make their own decisions now as a couple. And in leaving mom and dad they’re saying this is a permanent change.

God gave us spouses for the long haul not to leave when the going gets tough. Whenever I do a wedding, I always meet with the couple anywhere from 4-6 times. And there’s certain points I always like to bring out. And one of those points is that things will change over time. “No matter how secure (or how in love) you both are right now, things will change. People change. Jobs will change. Your financial situation might change many times. Houses come and go. Friends come and go. You may or may not have children. You’ll have times of plenty and times of need. And when that happens, you’ll need to support each other. You’re a team. You’re an equal partnership. But it also takes time to blend your lives together. It doesn’t happen overnight. So we can’t run at the first sign of trouble…” (An Excerpt from one of my Wedding Sermons).

And that applies to church planting as well. Abe and I were practicing this past week and as we were singing through Good Good Father, I had this major revelation. I was really enjoying our rehearsal. I was enjoying the process of having a song come together. And it reminded me that I can’t expect this church to pick up where my last one left off. It takes time. It takes time to develop relationships with people. And God will bring in who is supposed to be here when they’re supposed to be here. And it will happen over time. We’re still in the pre-launch phase. And the point is to connect with God and with people. Relationships don’t happen in a hurry. It takes time and commitment.

And marriages are the same. They don’t just happen. It takes work and commitment. We can’t run at the first sign of trouble. When we become one flesh, we make a commitment for the long haul. And no two relationships are the same. So my marriage is different, because no one else is quite like me or Olivia. And our family is unique because no one has the same four awesome children. Our family is unique and separate from all others. But we are committed to each other. And we have our problems just like anyone else. But we work through them and we do the best we can, because we’re in it for the long haul…

Before we get to our final recipe, we have to look at the last verse. This is one of the best lines in the Bible. It says that the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. When I’m talking to people (people who don’t believe), a lot of times they’ll say that heaven is going to be boring and they’d rather go to hell and party with their friends. So when I hear that, I realize they have no idea what heaven will be like…Adam and Eve had heaven on earth…

There was no sin yet. They were in the perfect environment as husband and wife. And they were naked. And I can assure you that they were not just holding hands and picking flowers all day long or sitting on clouds. Heaven is where it’s at. I don’t know what people want in hell, but I don’t want anything to do with excessive heat, burning, and/or a lake of fire. What I am interested in is running around naked all day long with no shame, guilt free, worry free, and experiencing God’s eternal blessings (and possibly having six pack abs…But I digress…).

Here’s a recipe for a healthy relationship (connection) with your spouse.

a. Marriage is an equal partnership. Believe it or not, the roles of men and woman vary greatly from culture to culture. And that’s fine. But God’s intention from the beginning is that a husband and wife are a team. Each one of us brings something different to the table. So it’s not about what a MAN or a WOMAN has to be or do. It’s about two individuals becoming one flesh and each one brings something different to the table that complements the other.

So it doesn’t always have to be the MAN does this and the WOMAN does that. Each couple is unique. Marriage is an equal partnership and each couple has to figure out what works for them. And that’s how I approach marriage coaching. YOU don’t have to run your household like WE do. You run it how it works for you. And I would also expect you to allow me the freedom to run my household in a way that works for my family. None of us are the same. We’re all unique. But the husband and wife are equals even though they bring different things to the table. So they might have different roles in the marriage but they are equal partners.

b. Marriage is until death do us part. Jesus gave His stamp of approval on this one. He said, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt.19:4-6 ESV). Running when the going gets tough is not God’s desire or design. Divorce should not be the first option we think of when we have a problem. I realize divorce does happen and sometimes it IS for the best.

And God can make good things come out of some of our greatest disappointments in life. Praise God that He is a God of second chances! So if anyone reading this is divorced, this is NOT a guilt trip of any kind. But we are looking at God’s design for healthy relationships and marriages. And God’s design is for it to be for the long haul. So instead of ending a marriage when things get hard, get help. The church can and should be a part of that help. If even half the couples would get on board with these two simple truths (that we are equal partners and that it’s for the long haul), we could cut the divorce rate in two. If we actually opened the lines of communication and just talked through our issues (and would be willing to compromise), we could save countless marriages and families.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” (1 Cor.13:4-8 NIV). And God is love. He loves us. And He wants us to love each other with a love that considers other people, not just ourselves. He designed us for relationship. And love considers the other person while the other person considers us. That’s basic relationship 101. And basic relationship 101 says, You had me at hello. It says, We need to work this out because I can’t function without you. You complete me. And that goes for our relationship with God, with people, with our family, and with our spouse.

Day Five

Questions to consider…

  1. Why do you think God’s rules offend people?
  2. Are you introverted or extroverted? Do you like being around people? Do you see the need for healthy relationships? Or would you rather be by yourself?
  3. What do you enjoy about being around certain people that you call friends? Do you enjoy their company? Do you feel that it’s a competition? Or is it just nice to be around somebody and have someone to talk to?
  4. Does equality in the marriage relationship interest you? Do you have any preconceived notions about what a marriage should be or about what the roles of the husband or wife should be? Read Ephesians 5:22-33 and discuss how it relates to Genesis 2 and relationships between a husband and wife.

You’re A Good Good Father

DAY 1

Have you ever been mad at God? Have you ever thought He should do something but He didn’t? I’ve been there. Somehow (at some point), I think we’ve all thought we could do a better job. It’s not true. And we really don’t think we can. But by our words and actions, we are saying that. The truth, if we’re being honest with ourselves, is that there are times when we doubt God. And we doubt that He is good. It’s a dark place to be, but I’ve been there. Maybe you have too. If not, I’m sorry to inform you but it’s probably coming!

And it’s frustrating when He doesn’t seem to answer. It’s frustrating when He doesn’t seem to come through when we need Him the most. It’s frustrating when He doesn’t do what we want Him to when we want Him to do it. Isn’t it? We could have the best of intentions with whatever we’re doing, but when God doesn’t come through it really takes the wind out of our sails. And then the anger sets in. And if we’re not careful, it could lead to the feeling (or the belief) that if God doesn’t come through, He either doesn’t care or He just doesn’t exist. Or we think that maybe He’s not good. Maybe He LIKES to see us suffer. Those are horrible thoughts. But those are just a few ways some people could stop talking to God, leave the church, and end up not believing in God at all.

That’s why I love the Bruce Almighty movie. Have you seen it? If not, you should watch it! Bruce says a lot of things that we’ve all thought at one time or another. As for me, I love to learn what people think about God because it gives me insight into how they got to where they are in their belief system. It helps me to know how to reach them better. It also helps to shake stupid thoughts that come into my head. Because when I start to think like that I can be quickly reminded of how ridiculous and unfair I’m being.

Once upon a time there was a scientist. And as he was speaking to God one day, he said some pretty bold things. He said, “God, we don’t need you anymore. Science has put YOU out of a job. We can do everything by ourselves. We can even create life and clone life. We can cure diseases. We don’t need YOU anymore God. You’re obsolete. We don’t need Your outdated rules and ways.” And God looked at him and said, “Great. Why don’t we have a creation competition? Let’s see what we both can come up with, something new and awesome, something that’s never been done before. You go first.” And the scientist, with a fire in his eyes said, “Absolutely.” Then he picked up some dirt and got ready to work. But God jumped in and said, “Get your own dirt…” (Source Unknown; I’ve heard it many times and in many ways over the years; this is simply my version of the story).

Ouch! Burn! That’s what my kids would say. But most people, at some level, at least believe that a god exists. They might not ever do anything about getting to know this generic god but they at least believe in a higher power. In college, I was surprised to learn that there’s only about 15% of people in the world that consider themselves atheists. That’s a pretty low number. But even then, I would guess that most of that 15% isn’t even really atheist. I believe that most are simply mad at God and they lost their faith somewhere along the line (at least American atheists). But no matter how much they lie to themselves, the truth is that you can’t be mad at a God you don’t believe in…

Only fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, and their actions are evil; not one of them does good! God looks down from heaven on the entire human race; he looks to see if anyone is truly wise, if anyone seeks God. But no, all have turned away; all have become corrupt. No one does good, not a single one!” (Psalm 53:1-3 NLT). Again, I believe that most people believe that there is some kind of higher power. If they say they don’t believe, they’re either mad at God or perhaps they don’t want to change their lifestyle. They don’t want to pursue Him because they know it would mean that their lives would have to change. They’re not seeking God because they’re too busy pursuing selfish actions.

But the proof of the existence of God is right in front of our faces every single day. “The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world” (Psalm 19:1-4 NLT). We took a family vacation to South Dakota last summer. It was some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen in my sheltered life. Mostly, I’ve just traveled up and down the east coast. I have been to Israel once. And that was beautiful, but it was beautiful for different reasons. But I’ve never seen anything as beautiful as South Dakota.

And as I was taking it in, while driving and almost crashing the car several times (Olivia hates when I sight-see and drive. I don’t know why.), I couldn’t help but praise God. Because I know that nothing that beautiful could have just happened by chance or evolution. It was created and designed by the Grand Designer, God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth. There’s just no good excuse for denying it.

“They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God” (Rom.1:19-20 NLT). So in this series, I’m going to give us all more reasons to have no excuse for not knowing God. And hopefully by the end of the summer, we will have covered the entire introduction to the Bible, which is the first 12 chapters of Genesis. And we’ll learn how we got into this beautiful mess called life. But this first message in the series is titled, You’re a Good Good Father. Since it IS Father’s Day, I thought there was no better example than the Original Father! We might not always understand what He’s doing, but He is a Good Good Father. That’s Who He is.

DAY 2

1. God is Good Because He Created Something From Nothing and Gave it Form.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. And God said, ‘Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day. And God said, ‘Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.’ And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. And God said, ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.’ And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day” (Gen.1:1-13 ESV).

So here we have the first three days. And those first four words are pretty significant. It says, “In the beginning, God….” That is a bold statement. It’s true. But it’s bold. It’s important to know right off the bat that the Bible never tries to prove the existence of God. It just assumes it. And there is no attempt here to give a scientific explanation of creation. That was not God’s intent here. The Bible assumes God’s existence. A scientific explanation would’ve meant nothing to the original readers. We’re just being given the basics here.

But it’s highly significant because at the time this was written, people were already running away from God and worshiping idols. They were worshiping the sun and all kinds of other false gods. So all God is giving us here is a basic rundown of what He created. There was no fight between ancient gods. Nothing in creation was to be worshiped. God is the One who created it all. And it was for a specific purpose. But all He was doing here was giving us practical information that we need to know about what He was creating and providing. There was no science involved in the explanation and there are definitely things He left out because His original readers (and us) wouldn’t have been able to comprehend it anyway! We weren’t ready for it yet.

It’s like when a little child asks that famous question. Mommy (Daddy), where do babies come from? Ever tried to explain that one to a little child? The best answer, of course, is You’ll have to ask mommy about that…That’s what I did the first time Amelia asked me that question! But seriously, you can’t explain that to a little child. They’re not ready to hear the answer. Even if you tell them everything, they won’t understand. It’s too much. They can’t comprehend it. So all we end up saying is that when two people fall in love they get married and have kids. And that’s true. You don’t fill in all the messy details. But what the child does understand is that mommy and daddy love each other, they love their kids, and they provide everything they need.

And that’s what God’s doing here. He’s saying, All these false gods people are following and worshiping are not really gods. They didn’t do anything. Creation wasn’t the result of a battle between gods. And humans are NOT slaves to the gods. Here’s what happened at creation…And then He goes on to tell us. And it’s very simple. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” And at the beginning, what He created was without form and empty. So what does He do? He starts to give form to what doesn’t have form. He’s like a potter forming a lump of clay into a beautiful piece of artwork.

And as He’s giving it form, He starts to separate things. There was already darkness, so He says, “‘Let there be light.’ And there was light.” Then He separates light from darkness. And He gives them names. He calls the light Day and the Darkness He calls night. And then something else really awesome happens. He sets something in motion that’s highly significant for us. It says that “there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” On the first day, God creates TIME. Again, those first four words, “In the beginning, God,” are highly significant. He’s simply referring to the time period of creation. “In the beginning” is not God’s beginning. He’s eternal. He’s not bound by time. It’s simply a reference to the first seven days He’s talking about here in the first two chapters of Genesis. But time means something to the readers. It means something to us. And on that first day of creation, God creates time. The clock is now ticking. And we have the first day.

And then on the second day He separates the water from the sky. So now we have a climate. We have weather. On the first day He created time. And on the second day He gives us weather. So what happens on day three? He separates more. He gives more form to what was formless. He separates the water from the dry land. And then He does something really cool. He creates plants and trees on the land. So He provides a food source (not to mention great beauty). I can’t even imagine what it might have looked like in the beginning. I’ve already mentioned South Dakota. And I’m sure you have favorite places to visit too. But can you imagine what it looked like in the beginning when everything was perfect, just how God designed it, and man didn’t have a chance to screw it up yet?

And then He says that it was good. In fact, He’s said it like three times already during the first three days of creation. He said it was good. He was satisfied with it. It was just right. It was good. So in the first three days, God creates something out of nothing. And then he forms what was without form. And of course, this flies in the face of evolution. Evolution says that things happened by chance over millions of years. But that’s not the explanation we get here. We have the Creator, God. And He creates this beautiful paradise with form and beauty. There’s nothing random about it. It sounds like He knew what He was doing. And He says that it’s good. It’s just right. It’s designed exactly the way He wanted it to be.

So why is God good? God is Good Because He Created Something From Nothing and Gave it Form. Have you ever made anything from scratch? Have you ever made a gift for someone rather than buying it? That’s why I love it when my kids make stuff for us. It’s so much more special when thought goes into a gift rather than just giving cash or a gift card. It’s special when someone takes the time to think of something you would like and then makes it for you. So hand-made cards and gifts from my kids or my wife is special. But it takes thought. It takes time. It takes effort. It’s custom made. It’s just for me. And that’s what God did here. He custom made creation. And we haven’t even heard it all yet! We’ve only covered three days! There’s much more to come! And we don’t even know WHY He created it yet. But His creation is awesome and perfect and good. And He’s a good good Father. That’s WHO He is!

DAY 3

2. God is Good Because He Created Lights and Living Things to Fill What He Formed.

“And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.’ And it was so. And God made the two great lights–the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night–and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day. And God said, ‘Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.’ So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.’ And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day” (Gen.1:14-23 ESV).

So here we have the next two days. This is day 4 and 5. And what’s happening here is that God starts to fill up what He just created and formed. God begins to bring life to His creation. He fills (with life) what was formed, but empty. And again, Father’s Day was just a few days ago. So if you got a gift for dad (perhaps a tool box), you probably didn’t give him an empty toolbox unless he already had all the tools he needed. I’m not sure that’s even possible. There’s always new gadgets to buy! But seriously, you wouldn’t give dad an empty toolbox for Father’s Day. You’d give him tools to go in the box.

Outside, in our yard, we have a pool. How cruel would it be if we got our kids an empty pool? That would be weird. Olivia and I didn’t do that. We filled it up with water. We didn’t realize it would take the better part of a week to fill it up, but we did fill it up with water. And we did a good job too! We included a kiddie pool. Most people can’t do that with an above ground pool, but since we’re awesome, we were able to make it deep on one side and shallow on another. And that wasn’t a mistake. It wasn’t because we didn’t know what we were doing and didn’t realize the pool wasn’t level. That’s not it at all! It’s a kiddie pool at one end and a regular pool at the other!

But seriously. We filled it up. We didn’t give them an empty pool. And we also filled it with some fun toys too. We bought some beach balls, noodles, and water-squirty things. So we filled up the pool with some fun to go with the water. The point was so they could have fun. The point was so they could also invite their friends over to play and have fun. We set them up for success, not failure. And God did the same thing with His creation. He filled up what was empty. He set us up for success. And that’s another reason why God is SO good. God is Good Because He Created Lights and Living Things to Fill What He Formed.

So on day four we get the sun and moon. Now, He doesn’t mention them by name, but it’s clear that’s what He’s talking about. But there was a reason He didn’t say SUN or MOON. Again, there was rampant idol worship at the time. People were worshipping the sun, moon, and stars. So God is making the point that you shouldn’t worship the creation. You need to worship the Creator! And there’s only one Creator. It’s God Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. But here He does give us the sun and moon on day four. And then He says, Oh by the way, I also created the stars, like it’s an afterthought. Of course, it’s not an afterthought, but that wasn’t the focus. The focus was what He was creating here on planet earth.

And maybe that’s another reason WHY we didn’t get a scientific explanation. He doesn’t want us worshiping science either. He wants us in awe of Him. He’s the One who created all this. He’s the focus. But it IS crazy when you add in the science. When I was studying for this section, I was amazed to learn that our galaxy (not the whole universe) spins at 490,000 mph! But it’s so big that to even spin one time, it would take 200 million years to rotate just one time. That’s a large galaxy to say the least! I can’t even comprehend that! But then you have to add to that the fact that there are billions of more galaxies out there other than just ours. Our God is a GREAT God!

But He created all that on day four. And then on day five, He created life in the sea and birds. So He created all the fish and life in the ocean, but then He also created the birds that fly. That was day five. He filled up the ocean and the sky with life, with living creatures. And He said that it was good. But here’s a good question. Did you notice a problem? Does it bother you that there was light before God created the sun? It shouldn’t because God doesn’t need those lights. We do. But He doesn’t. And since we weren’t around yet it really doesn’t matter does it? No.

Those lights were for us to mark times and seasons. He already created time. But now we have a way to mark time. And lights were created so we could see to get around. And since we weren’t around yet. It doesn’t matter that there was light before those things were created. God doesn’t need the sun for light. He has His own light. We need the sun and moon and stars for light. He was thinking of us because He’s good. He’s a good good Father. That’s who He is!

DAY 4

3. God is Good Because He Created Us and Put Us in Charge of His Creation.

“And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds–livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.’ And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’ And God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day” (Gen.1:24-31 ESV).

So now we’re in the sixth day of creation. And the first thing God does on Day Six is create all the land animals and all the little bugs that drive us crazy (all the creepy crawly things). So if there was any doubt when an animal was created, it was on this day. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking dinosaurs or dragonflies. It was on Day Six. And the next thing He creates on Day Six is us (people). So yes, dinosaurs and people co-existed together, at least for a period of time. We don’t know how long. We don’t know all the details, but if all the animals and people were created on the same day, we were not separated by millions of years.

There was no catastrophe that wiped out the dinosaurs, followed by millions of years, followed by people evolving into what we are now. There is no evolution according to the Bible. God created everything. He knew what He was doing. He doesn’t need evolution. There was great order and beauty to everything He created. And this is the account that He gave us. If you ever want to dive into that more and need resources, check out answersingenesis.org. That is an amazing resource with very smart people that know a lot more about the book of Genesis than I’ll ever know. And they have a LOT of science to back up what they say. That’s the same group that built the Creation Museum in Kentucky. They also built a life-sized version of Noah’s Ark and turned it into a museum.

But that’s not the most important issue in this last section of chapter one. I know people like to get bogged down in all of that. But the most important part of the introduction to the Bible is when God says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” And then He goes on to put us in charge of everything He just created. He says, Be fruitful and multiply. Have a lot of kids! And you’re in charge of this entire planet I just created. All of this is for you guys! Surprise! Happy Birthday guys!

So I really only want to point out two main things about Day Six. It’s not that I want to ignore the other parts of what He said. I love animals. I love our cats we just got. People love their pets. Animals are great. That’s fantastic. Dinosaurs are fascinating. It’s a great thing to study out and look into. So I’m not trying to ignore all that, but I also don’t want us to miss the obvious. Sometimes we get bogged down in the details and we miss the obvious. We miss what’s right in front of our faces.

So here’s the first thing. We were created in the image of God. He doesn’t say that about anything else He created, other than man (and woman). We were created in His image. Now that’s not a physical thing. It’s more of a spiritual, relational, and emotional kind of thing. We know God is spirit and we worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). But just because we were created in His image, it doesn’t mean that we’re God or that we’ll ever become gods like some cults teach. But we do reflect the character of God in some ways. We’re able to relate to Him, to have a relationship with Him. We can talk to Him, we’re creative like Him, we can have emotions, purpose, and we can LOVE.

He doesn’t say that about the animals or birds or fish in the sea. He said that about us. We were created in His image. He is our Father. And He is a good good Father. That’s WHO He is.  So Day Six of creation is like the first and best Father’s Day ever because that’s when we were created! And we were created in His image. He didn’t leave us alone to fend for ourselves. We are able to have a relationship with Him. We’re able to talk to Him. He’s not some big white guy in the sky with a long beard waiting to strike us down. He is a loving Father that takes great care of His kids and wants to raise them right! But that’s not all!

Here’s the second thing. He put us in charge! He said we were created in His image and this was all created for us! Now, we don’t really OWN it. It’s all His. But we are caretakers (stewards) of what He created. We are responsible to take care of what God put us in charge of. We are the crown jewel of God’s creation. We are valuable to God. All through this account, God said that what He had made was good. But on this day, He didn’t say it was good. He said it was VERY GOOD. God is a Father who certainly knows how to give good gifts to His kids. He’s a good good Father. That’s WHO he is.

So why is God good? God is Good Because He Created Us and Put Us in Charge of His Creation. Creating is anything but easy. Forming something that has no form takes creativity. Making something from nothing is easier said than done. And God is the only One that’s ever done that. But there was a purpose behind it all. When we moved to Harford County, the main thing I wanted to do was to make a front yard so my kids could play outside. And when we first moved in there were so many trees. Our front yard was not there. It was all trees. The pool (and fire-pit) was not there. It was all trees. It was an incredible amount of hard work to clear the land. And I have the injuries to prove it! I fell off a ladder. I almost chopped my leg off with the chainsaw (that was not a fun day). And every muscle in my body hurt. And that’s just for the front yard. There’s still hundreds of jobs left to do. But there’s a reason behind why I’m so motivated to do it and why I’m keeping it up…It’s for my kids…It’s for my family…

And it’s also for YOU (the person who might not read this until it’s been out for quite a while). Part of moving down here to Harford County was so that this could be a place where people could come to know Jesus, grow in the faith, and gather to worship God. There was a purpose behind it. And it was also for my family. We want this to be a place we can enjoy together now. We want it to be a place that we can invite our friends and our kids’ friends to come over and play and hang out. But we also want it to be a place we can gather in the future when we have grand-kids and great grand-kids.

So what’s the grand motivation? Love. Love is why we do what we do. And love is why God does what He does. He is love (1 John 4:8). And He is good (Psalm 136:1). Of course, God is perfectly happy and content. He is fulfilled and relates perfectly to Himself (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). He didn’t need us. But He loved us, and wanted to share His love with us (before we were even created). He’s a good good Father. That’s WHO He is. We don’t always understand Him. And we might get mad at Him, like Bruce Almighty, when things are spiraling out of control. But He is good. And we are created in His image. And we were meant to share His love.

DAY 5

So what happened on day seven?

“Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation” (Gen.2:1-3 ESV).

God rested on the 7th day to enjoy His perfect creation and to set an example for us. We need rest. God doesn’t need rest. But we do. His creation was no longer formless or empty. It was perfectly ordered, formed, and filled! So He set a day aside to enjoy it! It’s OK to enjoy God’s creation and blessings! We all need to stop and look around and enjoy what God has provided! We can’t work all the time. We can’t work ourselves to death. We need rest. We need to recharge. We need to chill out and enjoy what God provides! The world won’t explode if you take a day off! I promise. The world will go on.

I’m one of the biggest offenders of that. It’s VERY hard for me to take a day off because there’s always so much to do. But we need rest. We all need time to enjoy what God has provided. God never intended to work us to death with no fun. He designed a day of rest every week for us to enjoy Him and His creation. We ALL need to slow down and enjoy life. Most people think the Sabbath Day is for worship. But it’s not. It’s for rest. We CAN worship on that day. But the point is to rest. That’s what the word Sabbath means. It means rest. God is Good Because He Created a Day of Rest and Set the Example for Us. And when we don’t rest, it’s just one more way we’re disobeying God. And then somehow in the process we get mad at Him because we’re exhausted. Go figure. He told us to rest. He told us to take a day off.

And that’s what we all hope for and desire even if we don’t consciously realize it. We work ourselves to death. Why? Because we want to save money for retirement. We want to someday rest from all of our hard work. As Christians, we desire heaven. Why? Because we get to rest and be with God forever. But the problem is that we always put rest in the future. However, God designed lots of rest for us in the here and now. We can rest one day a week. That’s what Saturday is for. It’s for rest. Traditionally, in America we don’t get one day of rest, we get two! Unfortunately, we usually just fill it with more and more work.

So going forward that’s one thing we all need to learn and I would love for us to learn it together. And again, I’m a hypocrite when it comes to this, but everything we’ve been doing over the past few months since we moved here was designed so we could wind down, recharge, and rest. And I want YOU to come along for the journey and learn to rest WITH us. You’re gonna hear the words Missional and Missional Community a lot over the next few weeks, months, and years!

And the first time you hear about it and what our purpose is in the church (making disciples and doing life together), it’s going to sound overwhelming. You’re gonna think, I can’t do all of that. I don’t have time. But in the end, my desire is not to add anything to our schedules. My desire is to actually ease the burden. My desire, and God’s desire, is to take things OUT of our schedules. Doing life together is about including each other in what we’re already doing, not adding more busyness to a plate that’s already full. The point is to apply the brakes, stop and look around, and enjoy life. We want to discover God’s good gift of REST. He gave us rest because He knows we need it. He’s a good good Father. That’s WHO He is!

Questions/Actions to consider…

  1. Have you ever doubted God? Have you ever doubted that He was good? If so, how did it change the way you lived your life? Did you rebel? Did it draw you closer to Him? 
  2. Do you have friends and/or family that ask you questions about God? What kinds of questions do they ask? Are they questions about creation? Science? The troubles of life (like relational issues or finances)?
  3. When people ask questions about God or claim that it’s outdated or that science replaces God, do they ask specific questions and/or give specific examples or are their comments general and broad? When you refer them to a website or a book do they go and check it out or simply dismiss it?
  4. Instead of arguing with someone about the Bible (or preaching at them), have you ever considered NOT talking about it and just hanging out and spending TIME with the person? Have you ever considered just listening to them and finding out what they think?
  5. How do you feel about the definition given here about us being created in the image of God? Does it change the way you will talk to and relate with God in the future? Does it change the way you will share God with people who don’t yet believe? Does God’s LOVE motivate you to share His love with someone who doesn’t yet accept Him?
  6. Score yourself (scale of 1-10) on how good you are at getting rest and enjoying what God provides? Are you good at resting or are you always too busy to fit anything else into your schedule (spending time with friends, family, church)? Would you consider including other people (church and unchurched) in what you’re already doing so you can fellowship and try to make new disciples of Jesus?
  7. After going through all the points for Genesis 1, do you think that God is good? Do we have a right to question Him or be mad at Him? If He created all of this for us and put us in charge, do you think there might be reasons behind why we suffer? Do you think that He’s out to get us, strike us down with lightning, and/or ignoring us?

The 3 R’s: What does a balanced church look like?

Day 1

A few years back, I saw an incredible performer while I was on vacation with my family. He was a magician and a juggler. But he also did this amazing plate spinning trick. I have no idea how he did it. He had several plates spinning all at once, he was juggling, and he was talking. I have trouble doing even one thing at a time, so this particular trick amazed me! He was awesome. Nevertheless, thinking back about him leads me to ponder about how I spend my time. In general, people spend the bulk of their time on what they deem important. Indeed, what they SAY is not important. What they actually DO in practice tells the tale. Moreover, if you look at a person’s checkbook, you can REALLY tell what they prioritize.

Churches are no different. Some churches focus on Bible study. Some focus on mission. Some focus on fellowship activities. Usually Christians and churches are focused and good at one thing (whatever that may be). Yet when we focus on one thing too much, we ignore other important matters. Jesus gave us a pretty straightforward mission (to make disciples). Unfortunately, it’s very easy to get distracted from that mission and get sidetracked. So what’s the answer? How do we keep all of those plates spinning at once? How do we not lose focus on making disciples, still have time to go to work, and find the time to raise a family? That’s a great question! I’m so glad you asked!

May I suggest the 3 R’s for the well balanced local church (Reaching Out; Relating In; Reuniting Up)? If we, as the church, are to be committed to connecting with God and with people around the table and in the community, we must be able to achieve a balance. Getting overwhelmed and burned out is NOT a fun place to be. I’ve been there and done that! Moreover, each of the three R’s includes an intentional “ing” at the end because each one suggests ongoing action. The truth is that this is a lifestyle we live rather than a product we consume.

Reaching Out (to non-believers).

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough” (Matt.13:33 NLT).

Reaching out is at the top of the list simply because it’s the last thing Jesus told us to do before He ascended into heaven. Therefore, it should be the first thing we do! It should be the freshest mission on our minds as believers. We are to make disciples. And the only way we can do that is to reach out. This is both an individual effort and the collective responsibility of the church. Yet it can’t just be something we study about and know. We must put this into action and spend as much time doing it as we spend preparing for a Sunday morning worship service. Yes. Read that line again. I said it. It’s out there!

Reaching out means that we get out into the community and into the lives of people that don’t know Jesus. It is true that not everyone has the gift of evangelism. Not everyone can meet new people, become their best friend on the spot, start sharing the good news, and make a new disciple of Jesus with one hand tied behind their back (I can’t do that either). However, everyone has someone in their life (friend, coworker, family member, etc.) that doesn’t know Jesus. Everyone can pray for opportunities and seek out ways to build relationships with people. In addition, we don’t have to do it alone. That’s what our Missional Communities (MC’s) are for as we each use our unique, God-given gifts.

Furthermore, as we build relationships with people that don’t know Jesus, we invite them into community with us and our MC as we do life together. That way, for those who are not particularly knowledgeable enough (or confident enough) to answer the tough questions, we have someone in our MC to connect them with who can. This is how the group can work together on mission instead of inviting everyone to a Sunday service where the “pastor” has to lead, shepherd, and convert everyone. That’s how we created the mess we are in today. That’s why our churches are shrinking. And that’s why our pastors are burning out and quitting the ministry. It’s simply not healthy, biblical, or practical.

The better picture is the one Jesus gave us about the yeast working through the dough (Matt.13:33). Ancient yeast and modern yeast might not be exactly the same, but the point is the same. The yeast works all the way through the dough and causes it to grow. Over time, the results are undeniable. Even though it happens slowly, the yeast grows. So as individuals and MC’s get out into the community and become a part of the community, they will inevitably blend in, build relationships with people, and make a difference in the long run. As the church, we can no longer expect people to come to us. We must go to them and work through the dough. They have no reason to come to us. They have no idea that they need Jesus. We must continually be reaching out to them.

This can take many forms. MC’s can be a part of a vast amount of ventures like sports, community events, and school activities. Since most families are most likely already a part of those things, all we need to do is add a bit of intentionality to what we do.  That way there’s nothing we need to ADD to our schedules. Our schedules are packed tight enough as it is. Yet since we’re already there at an event of some sort, we insert Good News. We look for opportunities to build relationships with people who don’t know Jesus.

Furthermore, it costs the church nothing! There’s no need to spend thousands of dollars on outreach events that don’t work. Just become a part of your own community! For example, throw a block party cookout for your neighbors where everybody brings food and it costs practically nothing. Or simply attend other events that you’re invited to. Just be intentional about meeting people. When people have a common reason to be at the same place at the same time, relationships will inevitably develop. And as we develop those relationships over time, lives will change (much like the yeast working through the dough) as we incorporate people into the life of our MC.

Day 2

Relating In (to each other)

“All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer” (Acts 2:42 NLT).

The book of Acts gives us such a great picture of life in the first century church. Believers were reaching out like crazy, they were having meals together, praying together, meeting in houses, and studying together. They were in each other’s lives to say the least! So how did we get to where we are now in the modern church? Why do we invite people to sit and consume a show on Sunday morning as passive observers? What happened to the whole going from house to house thing? What happened to sharing belongings? What happened to being in each other’s lives on a daily basis? What happened to everyone participating? If you don’t know those answers, buy a good book on church history and you’ll be disgusted by the time you reach the fourth century! The church was just fine for the first three hundred years. It all went downhill once Christianity became legal (socially acceptable) and we started building buildings! That’s when it turned into a dog and pony show.

However, as we in the Missional Church reach out and incorporate someone into our MC, we discover what living out the book of Acts is all about! Relating in, for our church, is the life (the heartbeat) of the church. This is where all the “one-another’s” of the New Testament can happen. This is where people really feel like they belong and we become the church together. But an MC is not just a Bible study or a small group. An MC is a one-stop-shop where we can work together to reach out to the community, fellowship with each other, serve each other, have spiritual discussions, ask questions, study the Bible, build lasting friendships, pray together, make disciples, be accountable, and eat together (just to name a few). And when we’re a part of that, we’ll want to worship together as we gather as the local church. And that’s how we land at the final R (Reuniting Up).

Nevertheless, before we get to that final R, we must know that each MC is a little church. It might not be the entire local church, but each one functions as a church and as a family. There’s only so many people you can be close to at one time. Not everyone in the entire local church can be best friends. Yet we can connect with a couple families. An MC (even though there’s no set number) is usually less than twenty people. Once it gets too big, it becomes too hard for everyone to participate and know each other well.

Again, Jesus is the perfect example. He taught the large crowds for sure. But He also had the Twelve. He also had an inner circle of Three. And that’s where our blueprint for the three R’s comes from. We reach out like Jesus did. We go out into the community. We go after the one lost sheep. Once they are ready, we incorporate them into our MC as we learn to do life together. Jesus and His disciples did almost everything together. They didn’t just show up to the temple or synagogue together one day a week. They ate together, had meals in other people’s houses together, and they learned as they followed Jesus. And yes, they also worshiped together. It all works together. It’s an ongoing process. Getting people to a Sunday worship service cannot be our goal. It’s part of what we do, but it should not be the goal of the local church. It’s just one part of who we are.

If we really want to get a sense of what the church is all about (and was meant to be), being a part of an MC is the starting point. We really discover that WE ARE the church as we do life together, worship together, and go from house to house together. It’s where we can really grow in the faith. And it’s so much more than a meeting, a building, or a Sunday service. It’s a lifestyle. Furthermore, we can’t ALWAYS be reaching out. We need other believers. We need to restore each other, to challenge each other, to recharge our own batteries, to learn God’s Word, and to bear one another’s burdens as we learn to love each other just like Jesus told us to do (Gal.6:1-2; John 13:34-35). We need to be relating in (to each other).

Day 3

Reuniting Up (in worship)

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work” (2 Tim.3:16-17 NLT).

We really do need to learn the Word of God. We also need to gather as the local church to worship. And two of the R’s already mentioned really help to balance out what we need to DO as well as what we need to BE as the church. Yet none of that will come to fruition if we don’t know God’s Word or gather in worship. And worship gatherings are a great way to teach the local gathered church. When all the MC’s come together, people can get a sense of what’s going on throughout the whole church and not just their MC. We get a sense of the bigger picture when the whole church gathers and as we hear stories of people coming to the faith, what other MC’s are doing in their neighborhoods, as we eat together, and as we learn God’s Word together.

A Sunday Gathering (or whatever day you worship) can generate a lot of energy and enthusiasm. It can recharge us for the week. It can inspire us and our MC’s to think outside the box and to try new things that other groups are doing. A Sunday Gathering allows us to receive our marching orders and catch the vision from our leaders. We really do need to sit under the teaching of God’s Word from somebody who really knows it and has studied it. It doesn’t mean that they need to have letters behind their name, but it does need to be a chosen servant of God who is called for that specific purpose. We really need to be taught by those who know, those who are doing it, and those who can guide us along the way.

Nothing irritates me more than someone who doesn’t back up what they teach. It is impossible for someone to pastor a Missional Church if they do not live it out on a daily basis. Being a pastor is more than just being a good speaker. It helps to be a skilled speaker (so you don’t put people to sleep) but it also helps to speak from experience. Otherwise, we have no business teaching God’s Word. If we don’t do it, we can’t teach it. Jesus lived out what He taught and we must do the same. So, in my humble opinion, a “teaching” pastor who only teaches on Sunday morning is unbiblical, irresponsible, and mocks the very words of Jesus.

Seriously, how can someone train church planters if they’ve never planted a church? How can someone teach the Great Commission if they never spend time with lost people? That is the ultimate hypocrisy. It just can’t be. So as we gather, we must learn God’s Word. We need to know what it says, what it means, and we need to learn how to apply it by watching what our leaders do. Our leaders aren’t perfect. We can’t do everything. But we can only teach what we know and what we do. Therefore, we need to learn from leaders that DO, not just leaders who teach words alone.

We also need to sing together. I know some people like singing about as much as getting a root canal, but did you know that we’re told to do it? It’s in the Bible! “Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts” (Col.3:16 NLT). It doesn’t say we need to sing well, but singing is a great way to worship and praise God. And if it’s what He wants, that’s what we should want, even if it’s not necessarily our favorite thing to do. Nevertheless, music inspires, encourages, lifts up, and motivates us to action at the same time we are giving praise to God.

Finally, we are also required to meet together as the church. We can’t forget that the early church gathered for worship and was told to not give it up. “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25 NLT). When we gather as the local church, we do learn God’s Word and praise Him in song as mentioned. In addition, it’s also a way of getting our message out to everyone at once.

Each local church has a specific DNA that makes it unique. Each local church has a certain vision and a way they carry it out. But it’s hard to do that and generate energy if we don’t meet together on a regular basis. Moreover, it’s totally legal (for now)! We can, so why wouldn’t we? The day is coming when we will have to go back into hiding like the early church. So why not make the most of every opportunity we have now (Eph.5:15-17)? Why not gather together? Why not eat together? Why not get to know each other better? Why not worship together? Why not learn together? Why not train together? We were meant to connect with God and with people. That’s God’s design. And as we do that more and more, hopefully it will inspire us to want to share it with other people as we reach out more.

The point of the three R’s is achieving a balance in what we do. Instead of just being an institution that teaches knowledge, let’s back it up with applied action! Let’s keep a never-ending circle going of Reaching Out, Relating In, and Reuniting Up. That’s a basic and a biblical structure for the local, Missional Church. How each individual church does that is up to them. Yet we must be more than a Pharisee Training Camp. We can’t constantly learn knowledge and perform rituals without application. We can’t expect other believers to do what we’re not willing to do ourselves. We might not all play the same role, but we all can be a part of the Great Commission by using the gifts we have been given. “God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another (1 Peter 4:10 NLT; c.f. Rom.12:4-9; Eph.4:11-16).

Day 4

Questions to consider…

1. How can you and/or your MC reach out on a consistent basis to the people in your neighborhood that don’t know Jesus? Brainstorm together and make a list of things you’d like to try. Put daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly things on the calendar that you’d like to try. And as you meet people pray for them by name!

2. What does it mean to do life together? Does it seem overwhelming to think about? How can you balance eating together, hanging out, reaching out, being accountable, praying together, and learning together while not neglecting your responsibilities at work and at home?

3. Before being a part of a Missional church and/or MC, what was your perception of what the church is? Describe what you thought going to “church” was then and what you believe “church” to be now. 

Living the BLESSED Life: 7 Healthy Habits for the Missional Minded

Back in the old days (when dinosaurs roamed the earth) I used to teach marching band. Believe it or not, it takes an army of staff, parents, and kids to pull off a competitive High School performance. Anyone who has ever done it is fully aware of the countless hours spent in the band room and on the football field perfecting the show. I personally poured my heart and personality into every show. I do the same with directing musical theatre as well. It’s a part of who I am. I work hard and always enjoy going above and beyond the call of duty.

However, it infuriates me when people make suggestions and critique what we do when they have absolutely no idea how it all works and all the effort that goes into it. We call it the peanut gallery. In addition, it agitates me when people judge out of their caption. For example, if the color guard judge makes a comment about wrong notes being played by the trumpet section, that would be considered out of his realm of expertise. He has no business making the comment. Moreover, what really grinds my crank is when someone (like a parent) tries to start directing the show by giving contradictory instructions to his/her child (and several others) without even asking the staff!

So what in the world does this have to do with the church and/or living the missional life? That’s a great question! I’m so glad you asked! This happens in the typical church. We treat the church as a building with a service we attend once or thrice a week to consume goods and services. Yet if there’s something the consumers don’t like, they criticize the pastor and/or call a special business meeting to VOTE on proposed changes. It drives me up the wall. I have a hard time believing that Jesus suffered, bled, and died so we could sit in a building for an hour or two a week being entertained, going to endless Bible studies (where we constantly learn and never apply), critique those that are called by God to lead, and try to coach from the stands.

Furthermore, Christianity (in many churches) has been boiled down to learning a church language and improving our behavior. Do YOU think that’s what Jesus died for? Did He die so we could build mega churches and have great worship bands? I don’t think so. Jesus gave us one mission: to make disciples. So it amazes me that so many Christians (and churches) spend their time, resources, and their lives doing anything BUT making disciples. For some reason, they think it’s someone else’s job. However, if we want to make disciples in America today, we must embrace the missional lifestyle (ALL of us). What is the missional lifestyle? Read any one of the Gospels and observe the way Jesus and His disciples lived. Read the book of Acts and discover how churches were planted, disciples were made, and the Word of God spread.

Too many churches assume they’ve achieved success if they have a great church service, children’s programs, and big numbers. But I beg to differ. Numbers and finances often do NOT tell the tale. After all, didn’t Jesus say it was a narrow road and few find it? So why do we think God wants or expects huge numbers? I don’t believe God cares about the numbers at all. He cares about us making disciples. Behaving better is nice (and good), but at what point are we good enough? Didn’t Jesus die for our sins? Aren’t we forgiven? I hope so! We have a much better righteousness because of the sacrifice of Jesus!

Yet if we ignore the one thing He told us to do (make disciples), I can’t imagine that He’s a happy camper. So what does the missional lifestyle look like? How does discipleship happen? There are tons of blogs and books available that tell us how to be missional. And many of them are great reads. I recommend reading a few and applying what works for you. Just keep in mind that there is no one right way to do it. Personally, I feel like since so much effort has been placed on being missional in cities and suburbs that much of the focus goes to pubs and parties. And those are good things. I love a good beer!

Nevertheless, those are just a few tools in the toolbelt. They are not the whole tool box. And what about missional life out in the country? People in the woods and on farms need Jesus as much as people in the metro areas! So below are 7 simple steps to take to begin living a more missional lifestyle no matter your location and population: Bless; Listen; Encounter; Serve; Shabbat; Equip; Devote. Try them out. Just remember, however, that these are simply suggestions to get started. You might come up with some of your own or variations of what I (or others) have written. There is no one right way to do it! Just let God lead as you endeavor to make disciples and start living the BLESSED life!

Day 1 Bless

“‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matt.22:37-39 NLT).

“Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay. God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another” (1 Peter 4:8-10 NLT).

“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord…Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them…‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom.12:10-11 , 13-14, 20-21 ESV).

Bless. This one is first on the list for a reason. In our culture, Christians are too well known for what we’re against without people knowing what we are for and what we’re all about. But Jesus said it well. He said we’re supposed to love the socks off of each other! We’re to show love to God, each other (in the church), and to our neighbors (that’s everyone else). Blessing people can range from the everyday things to the extreme. My wife likes to call this Acts of Random Kindness (ARK). If every one of us would look up from our phones for just a minute and look away from how to please ourselves, we might actually notice what might make someone else’s day.

So if you want to begin living the missional life, like Jesus, check out your neighborhood and discover ways to bless people. Perhaps you might mow your neighbor’s lawn (just because), buy the new neighbor down the street a pizza and a six-pack to welcome them to the neighborhood, or offer to babysit for a young couple that’s slightly overwhelmed and in desperate need of a date night. Bless the teachers in your kids’ school by making them goodie bags with a Thank You note attached. Look for daily ways to bless people. It doesn’t take all that much effort.

You can look for more elaborate ways to bless people as well. Perhaps there’s a big project that needs to be done and you spend your weekend helping a co-worker to get it done (no charge) just to make their life easier. Or perhaps you decide to send someone on an unforgettable vacation (because they can’t afford it and you can). The possibilities are endless. If we want to be Good News to people, we need to stop studying information from the Bible and start living it like Jesus and the early church did. Bless your family. Bless people in your Missional Community. Bless the rest of the people in your little corner of the world (non-believers). Bless people.

Day 2 – Apply

Think about and pray about who you can bless today and in the coming weeks. And then get started and do it! Think about and pray about how often you want to bless people. It could be daily things, weekly, monthly, etc. Once you start blessing people on a regular basis you won’t want to stop. But take the time to think, pray, and do. Don’t just ignore and skip over this part! Bless someone today!

Day 3 – Listen

“Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry” (James 1:19 NLT).

“Even fools are thought wise when they keep silent; with their mouths shut, they seem intelligent” (Proverbs 17:28 NLT).

Listen. Listening is a lost art. People don’t naturally listen anymore. They simply talk and form responses before the other person is even finished speaking. But if we can learn the fine art of listening to people, we might just discover something new. We might find out what the people in our lives need. We might learn why they’re hurting. We might realize why they’re so angry, depressed, and/or lonely. If life is all about relationships (and it really is), then we need to realize that there are at least two sides to every story. It’s not about the Unholy Trinity of Me, Myself, and I. If we really want to get to know people and BE Good News, we need to listen.

Can I share a secret with you? People often tell me they feel so much better after talking to me. And it makes me smile. But it’s not because of anything I’ve done. It’s actually quite the opposite. It’s because I’ve learned to shut my pie hole and let someone emote (spill their guts) for however long they need. My wife would call that not being stupid, since everyone sounds smart until they open their mouths. You don’t need to be a pastor, theologian, or a Bible scholar to listen. You simply need to close your mouth, open your ears, and not actively prepare a response until the other person is finished and you’ve had time to process what was said.

A common phrase among actors is that acting is reacting. However, in order to react, we have to first hear what was said. We can’t have a prepared response ready to go. We must react to what’s being said. That, my friends, is the lost art of listening. If this is particularly hard for you, I recommend duct tape. It is indispensable in correcting so many issues. Furthermore, it’s available in many modern colors and designs! I don’t know how the world operated before duct tape! Listening is vital to relationship. Without it, we only have a monologue being spoken by a very lonely and selfish person. Listen.

Day 4 – Apply

Think about and pray about who you need to listen to. Is it a friend, neighbor, and/or a family member that needs someone to listen? Are you not sure about who to listen to because you don’t normally listen? Talk to God and ask Him to give you some names and to help you to be on the lookout for opportunities to offer a listening ear. He might give you the chance today or another day. Just be ready when the opportunity comes up! A great way to practice is when you’re with your family, friends, and co-workers. Just try listening to what they say without saying anything at all in return. Simply listen and don’t respond unless they specifically ask you to respond. This will take more than one day to master. However, try it out today. Don’t move on until you’ve actually listened. Then make it a habit over time.

Day 5 Encounter

“But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves” (James 1:22 NLT).

“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you” (Matt.28:19-20 NLT).

“Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it” (1 Peter 3:15 NLT).

Encounter. This is another major lost art among Christians. Somehow along the line, Christians decided that they needed to cut themselves off from the rest of the world. They decided that they needed to be in church several times a week and only surround themselves with other believers. They go from Bible Study to Bible Study and learn so much information. Sadly, it never gets applied out in the real world because they’re hiding out in ChurchLandia. However, the simple truth is that we can’t be obedient to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission if we’re not out in the world encountering people that don’t know Jesus. And yes, it is uncomfortable at first. It’s hard. But what do you think Jesus did? He left the comforts of His home (Heaven), moved into our neighborhood with a bunch of dirty rotten sinners (like us), and encountered the very people He was trying to reach! He didn’t expect us to come to Him. He knew we wouldn’t and couldn’t. He came to us!

So what can this look like? The sky’s the limit! God designed you in a certain way. He didn’t design us all the same. So I’m not one of those that says you HAVE to do it a certain way. You don’t have to hang out in bars. You could. But you don’t have to. You don’t have to invite people into your home and cook a meal for them and sit awkwardly around a dinner table if you don’t cook and don’t have a family. You need to pray about how YOU can encounter people in a way that works with the way God designed you. And then do it!

Since I am married and have 4 children, Olivia and I like to do family things. We do like to invite people into our home. We like to set up play dates for the kids and get to know their parents too. We don’t have a dump and run philosophy. We like to have pool parties, cookouts, and outings to the local ice cream shop. On a personal level, I enjoy going to coffee shops and sharing a cup with a friend (hence the whole Coffee Shop Pastor thing)! But that’s me and my family. You might be different. Pray about ways that you can meet people and build solid relationships. Obviously, not everyone will become your best friend. Not everyone will become a part of your Missional Community. No worries. At least you’ve made another friend!

Just get out there and start encountering people. You might want to join a local gym, get in shape, and meet people on the StairMaster next to you! You might be a mechanic and own your own shop. So perhaps you can talk to your customers as you work! Be creative. But most importantly, be YOU. Don’t copy me. Just apply the principles and be YOU. You might even be sick and in the hospital. Why not be a blessing to the doctors, nurses, and staff? They need Jesus too! We can’t make disciples if we’re alone and/or with other Christians all the time. We need to encounter people that don’t know Jesus. We must get out of our comfort zone and actually DO what the Bible says, not just memorize it. Knowledge alone, without application, is worthless.

So encountering people is anything we do that builds relationships (gym, coffee shop, workplace, home, meals, sports, etc.). In addition, encountering people means doing life together. As we move beyond initial ways to meet people, the relationship deepens as we hang out and build on what was started. So as we really get to know each other and move on from the superficial aspects of relationship, we earn the right to have Gospel Conversations. Once people get to know us (and our Missional Community), they will share what they believe and ask us questions.

And that’s when we need to be prepared to give an answer. The Bible never says to be prepared to shove Jesus down someone’s throat. It says to be prepared to give an answer. And if we’re giving an answer, it means that someone has asked us a question! And that usually happens over time. If we show up at someone’s door, like salesmen, we’re not going to be greeted with happy thoughts. I’ve been there, tried that, and the door has been slammed in my face. It doesn’t work! Get to know people first over time. Make a friend. Encounter.

Day 6 – Apply

Pray about and think about who God wants you to spend time with and encounter. If you’re new at this, it’s not hard because you can think about the people you encounter every day at work, at home, neighbors, friends, etc. If you’re a little further along in your walk and you’ve already exhausted those options, you’re going to have to start thinking like an apostle. Pray about and think about what God wants you to do to meet NEW people. It might mean coaching your son’s soccer team, joining a gym, joining the PTA, and/or volunteering at a local establishment (library, fire department). It might take several tries before you find something that works for you. And yes you will stumble and screw it up. I’ve stumbled a thousand times. If you’re a church planter, it’s discouraging to have to start over from scratch. Trust me! I’m doing this the second time around and it’s overwhelming to start over and not know anybody in town. It’s not easy, but hang in there! Give it time. Rely on God. Get out there and encounter people. He will bring the right people to you.

Day 7 Serve

“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 NLT).

Serve. Olivia makes fun of me when she sees me reading a book. I’m an underliner. Along with things I want to remember and/or quote, I underline everything that jumps out at me. So when she watches me underline three-quarters of every page, she tends to laugh at me. That being said (and if I were you), I would underline this whole section on serving. In my humble opinion, if we as disciples of Jesus could only pick one out of all the missional principles in BLESSED, this one would be it! Nothing can make us more like Jesus than to serve people!

Jesus left the comforts of heaven, relocated to Israel, and was an even better neighbor than Mr. Rogers! He set the ultimate example of what it means to serve and not to be served. On the surface, it might be confusing to differentiate between blessing people and serving people, but they are distinct. Sometimes you can kill two birds with one stone as you bless and serve together; however, I see serving people as helping them do things they can’t do by themselves. They might need a little help. Blessing people is the little things we do just because we can. Those we bless may or may not NEED what we bless them with. Yet we bless them because we love them and because God blesses us. Truthfully, sometimes God blesses us with things we don’t need or deserve, but He blesses us anyway (just because He can). Nevertheless, serving is more like recognizing a need and satisfying that need.

If you belong to a Missional Community (MC), serving your neighborhood is a great way to build relationships. Your MC could adopt a park, a school, a fire department, or whatever you come up with. Once you choose something (or someone) in your community to serve, find out what the needs are. Figure out what you as a group can do and then DO it. It might cost money. It might cost time. But the rewards are everlasting! The actual project you do might not seem that exciting, but the relationships built along the way (within your MC and the people you serve) are the important thing. Serving is a bridge to relationship. Serving is a way to BE Good News.  Jesus came to serve and not to be served. We should do the same. Serve.

Day 8 – Apply

Brainstorm with your MC and make a list of ideas. Come up with things that you guys can do as a group. Think about and pray about the who, what, when, where, and why of what you want to do. And then take steps to do it. Serve your community. Keep a running list. Don’t let this become a one-time thing. Keep a running list of ways to serve your community. And then check each one off your list as you accomplish each one over time. You can do this with your family as well. Perhaps you can adopt a sports team that one of your children is on. You can find out what the needs of the families are that are on the team. And then go from there. You can also make half-time snacks. You can give kids a ride if they need it. Serve people.

Day 9 Shabbat

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matt.11:28 NLT).

“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Ex.20:8 NLT). 

Shabbat. Shabbat is REST. This one should be self-explanatory; however, people in our culture do not know how to rest. We are on the go all the time. Unfortunately, I’m one of the biggest offenders! Yet what goes UP must come DOWN. We can’t be on the GO all the time. We need rest. In fact, God set one whole day aside every week for that very reason! In America, most of us are blessed with TWO days of rest, yet we rarely take them because we fill them with more work.

But what if we actually took a day off once a week for rest? You might be thinking, I’ll sleep when I’m dead. That is true. Nevertheless, your lack of rest might be sending you to that grave earlier than you want! My daughter cracks me up. I can always tell when she’s exhausted at the end of the day. She’s in a really BAD mood and she’s rather unpleasant to be around. There’s usually a lot of temper tantrums and screaming involved as well. At that point, I always know she’s tired when she screams out those famous words: I’M NOT TIRED!!!

So take a day once a week to rest. It can be by yourself, with your family, and/or with your MC. But take time to relax and chill. Don’t do any work. It’s not about legalism. It’s about resetting our clocks so we can get through the next week without collapsing or stressing out. Jesus wasn’t kidding when He said that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). The point is that we need REST. We don’t need more religion. We just need to rest physically, spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically.

We all need down time, slow-down time, and stop and look around time. In addition, at least once a year we need extended time off for a vacation to recharge for the coming year. Again, our example is Jesus. He took time to rest. So why shouldn’t we? Go ahead. I dare you! REST! But if you don’t, stop complaining and throwing temper tantrums that you’re too stressed out and busy. You are in control. You can step on the brakes. You can take a day off. The world will survive without you for one day! Shabbat.

Day 10 – Apply

Take a day off. Take a sick day or a personal day if you have one. REST. Chill. As you approach your next scheduled day off, plan ahead of time to relax. Don’t overschedule yourself. In fact, don’t schedule anything. Hide in your house. Sleep in. Go to the beach for the weekend. Find a consistent day each week that you can recharge your batteries. You’re not the Energizer Bunny. You may think you are, but your battery will run out if you don’t take time to recharge.

Day 11 Equip

“And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ” (1 Cor.11:1 NLT).

“You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others” (2 Tim.2:2 NLT).

Equip. Can I be honest? The modern evangelical church gets on my nerves! We are so good at one-half of one-third of the Great Commission. We are so good at teaching what the Bible says (to people who are ALREADY believers). We’re great at Bible study. Yet we never actually DO what the Bible says, which is a direct violation of (you guessed it) the Bible (James 1:22)! We’re not just supposed to teach the Word. We are supposed to teach people to OBEY the Word (Matt.28:20 NET)! Furthermore, our definition of discipleship is (you guessed it) gaining more knowledge of the Bible.

But what is the bulk of what Jesus said in the Great Commandment and the Great Commission? Isn’t it ACTION oriented? He wants us to love God with everything we’ve got, love our neighbor as ourselves, make disciples, baptize them, and teach them to (show them how to) put it all into practice (Matt.22:37-39; 28:18-20)! Jesus’ whole life was directed at leading His disciples. What did He tell them to do? He told them to follow Him! Jesus set the example for ALL of us to follow. And we need to pass it on by being a good example for someone else. In the end, we equip people by first setting a good example. We can’t merely talk people into being and making disciples. We need to SHOW them HOW to make disciples. In addition, if WE aren’t out making new disciples, WE have no business teaching other people how to do what WE don’t do.

So the question isn’t about how much Bible you know. The real question is how many people are you discipling (leading by example)? Your family is the first group you should be discipling (along with your spouse). The next should be someone in your MC. The next is someone who doesn’t yet know Jesus. Discipleship is a constant circle of making disciples who make disciples. And we lead by example. Memorizing the Great Commission is nice. You should memorize it! Nevertheless, DOING the Great Commission is what Jesus told us to do. Not everyone’s a leader. Not everyone’s a pastor. But all of us can set an example for someone. So who are YOU discipling? Equip.

Day 12 – Apply

Are you investing in anyone other than yourself? Too many Bible studies are ME oriented. They focus on helping us to behave better and find satisfaction in life by going to church services. But Jesus told us to make disciples. That means we have to include other people in our lives. We have to lead by example. It starts with our own family and extends out to people that don’t yet know Jesus. Obviously, that is something that takes time. Furthermore, we can’t disciple too many people at once. But how about one or two? Certainly we can include one or two people that need to be discipled. Pray about and think about who God wants you to disciple. If we’re doing life with people that don’t know Jesus, eventually some of them will come to the faith. And YOU are the one that is their example. So take them by the hand and lead them. Use BLESSED, not just for yourself, but also to develop another disciple over time.

Day 13 Devote

“And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth” (Acts 17:11 NLT). 

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work” (2 Tim.3:16-17 NLT).

 Devote. This one is dangerous! I’ve seen people take this one to the extreme in BOTH directions. The one extreme is that of the folks from a traditional conservative church. This is all they do. They go to church several times a week. They go to Bible study after Bible study. They do Quiet Times every morning! They pray. They work hard. They strive to always be on their best behavior. I could go on. But for the most part, these are good people with good intentions. There is always the danger of becoming a Christian Pharisee with the constant ritual and religion, but I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt here that the intentions are good.

The problem, however, is that if this is all we do we miss what God had in mind. Jesus didn’t die on the cross so we could all become highly intellectual Bible scholars. He died so we could make disciples. Sadly, if we reduce Christianity to Bible studies alone we miss six of the seven principles of living the BLESSED life. Being a well-behaved Christian is a GOOD thing. But it’s not the only thing. Moreover, we can never be good enough. Jesus already paid that price! The Bible actually tells us to not be overly righteous (Ecc.7:16 ESV)! Look it up. It’s there! Again, the New Testament example of that would be the Pharisees.

On the other side of the extreme coin, we have the Missional Party People. These are the people that love to hang out and party all the time. Unfortunately, they have no depth because they barely have any kind of relationship with God at all. They mean well. They want to read their Bible, study, and pray. But they rarely do it. They don’t really understand the Gospel or mission. Yet they are outstanding extroverts who love people (and alcohol). This is where Missional can get a bad rap. Sometimes people falsely think a Missional Church is cool because they know how to party. Yet they forget WHY we party. They also miss out on many parts of the BLESSED Life because they simply like to encounter (on the surface) and not much else.

However, the best option (as always) is finding a proper balance of all seven of the BLESSED principles. And Devote is absolutely one of them! We need to read and study our Bibles every day. We need to hear from God as we pray. In addition, it needs to be a substantial amount of time. Just clicking on a devotional from Facebook that takes less than one minute to read is not sufficient. It certainly is shallow, but not sufficient. Sorry. I don’t apologize for that. I do not condone or write fluff. There’s a reason I don’t write that kind of material. If that’s all you want, this BLOG’s NOT for you. We need solid Bible study.

Nevertheless, that Bible study must be applied. Otherwise, you’re sinning by being super knowledgeable, knowing what you need do, and not doing it (James 4:17). Knowledge AND Application of God’s Word is the only path to true worship and truly glorifying God with our lives. So true devotion to God is BOTH study AND application. Furthermore, it needs to be your own personal study AND corporate. Once you study the Bible, you’ll immediately learn that God intends a healthy relationship with Him, with His people (the church), and with people that don’t yet know Him. We were meant to be in community, not isolation.

The final part of devotion is regular coaching. We all need coaching. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been a Christian. We all need guidance and accountability. We all need a little help on a regular basis discerning what God is saying to us, confessing our sins, repentance, sharing victories and struggles, and making disciples. We all need coaching. And part of devoting our lives to living for Jesus is accountability. This is not about control. It’s about being teachable. God intended for us to be in this together. There’s no need or reason for lone-gunmen. Devote.

Day 14 – Apply

Have you ever had a mentor? A coach? Have you ever been discipled? If you’re answer is no, you’re not alone. I was not properly discipled until I was much older. I stumbled and fumbled in so many ways that could have been avoided if I had a proper coach. So think about and pray about who this person could be for you. It needs to be someone who has been there and done that. They need to be much further along the road than you. They also need to embrace the missional mindset. It would be best if it was someone from your own church and your own MC. And in the meantime, don’t forget to dust off your Bible and start reading, studying, and praying!

Conclusion

So where do we go from here? There are plenty of authors who have written similar things to what you just read. And they’re great. I’ve read some of them. But no one has all the answers. And no one is YOU. You have to decide how to apply this using your own gifts, personality, and limitations. So go ahead and start trying this out on a regular basis. And by all means, have someone coach you through it! But make sure it’s someone who knows missional concepts and lives out these principles. There’s nothing worse than a teacher who always teaches and never applies what he claims to know. That’s another name for hypocrite.

So go ahead and start living the BLESSED life. Use it in your own life. Use it in your MC. Use it to coach other people who aren’t as far along as you. Use it to BE coached by someone who IS further along than you. Use it for your own family (spouse and kids). If we really want to GO and Make Disciples like Jesus told us to do, BLESSED is a great way to make that happen! This is not just a study to be read. It’s a study to be applied. And it will lead to transformation. It’s simply application of Biblical principles. It’s not really anything new. It’s application of something very ancient, yet still applicable today!

And yes, involve your whole family! There’s no separate Children’s Program needed. If you’re a parent, it’s YOUR responsibility to raise your kids. So use this with your kids too. And make it fun and easy for them to understand in their own context. Your whole family can be living the BLESSED life together. There’s no need to separate. Be a family. Do this together. Include your kids in mission now. If they see that it’s important to you as you lead by example, they will continue living the same way when they raise their own family. More Children’s Programs are NOT needed. More godly and missional PARENTS are needed! You can bless and encounter your children’s friends and families just as easily as your own friends, coworkers, and family. Incorporate that into how you do BLESSED. It’s a lot of fun. And it leads to a better, deeper, and a more Jesus centered family.

Questions and Actions for YOU and your Missional Community…

  1. Try out BLESSED for a few weeks or months and make a list of the challenges you face along the way that keep you from living this way. In addition, make a list of the blessings and successes God brings to the people you’re reaching out to, your family, and your missional community.
  2. What often gets in the way of living this missional lifestyle the way Jesus did?
  3. Does BLESSED seem overwhelming? Legalistic? Should we ADD it to our lives or can we make it a part of what we already do?
  4. In your MC, are kids a problem to be solved (shoved in a corner) or are they an integral part of your missional family? Brainstorm ways that your MC can incorporate children with what you do, who you’re trying to reach, and what your meetings look like. Try out the ideas and keep what works!

That’s Just the Way it is!

“Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and ignores it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash. When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, for he taught with real authority-quite unlike their teachers of religious law. Large crowds followed Jesus as he came down the mountainside” (Matt.7:24-8:1 NLT).

Day 1 – The Wise Man

Last night I was untimely ripped from a good night’s sleep due to a violent windstorm. I’m pretty much a scaredy-cat no matter where I am when a storm hits, but now that we’re in a new home in a new place (in a forest full of tall trees), I’m even a little more freaked out. As I sit typing at my computer right now, the wind’s STILL blowing pretty hard. Looking out my office window, I can see all the trees dancing in the wind, swaying back and forth. It looks to me like they could fall at any moment. That’s the only thing I could think about last night as I was trying to go back to sleep. What if a tree falls and hits our house? Will we die right away? Will it cut right through the house? By the way, they’re not small, insignificant trees. They’re tall oak trees that soar way above our house.

Yet the more I think about it and stare out the window, I can’t help but think how those trees got there in the first place. I can’t help but think what they had to endure to get as tall as they are now. I don’t think it’s possible to get that big and tall without being strong. And as tall as they are above the surface, I can’t even imagine what their root systems looks like underground. So I have now come to the realization that those trees aren’t going anywhere. One windstorm isn’t going to bring those tall oaks down. Those trees have been through hundreds of windstorms over the years and they’re not going anywhere. They’re anchored in the ground and they’re built to last. That’s just the way it is!

With that in mind, there is no more fitting conclusion to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount than the story He’s about to deliver in the verses we’re looking at today. He’s finishing up the greatest sermon ever preached. He’s given us so many tools to live by. And if we actually put His words into practice, we will (over time) grow in our faith and be able to weather any storm life throws our way. Over time, as we apply His words and live by faith, we will grow. Our roots of faith and action will run deep below ground to anchor us through the storms of life.

The truth is that the entire Sermon on the Mount comes down to the story Jesus uses to close it out. He’s given His hearers so much great information. Yet if they walk away and do nothing with it, they’ve all wasted their time. It always comes down to action. The information Jesus gives us in this entire sermon is intended to be applied. Once applied over time, God produces the transformation we need to make it down that narrow road of life. James summed it up well when He wrote, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22 NIV). So in order to weather life’s storms, we need to DO God’s Word. That’s just the way it is!

1. If we want to weather the storms of life, grow in our faith, and find true happiness, we must not just hear the Word of God, but DO the Word of God (Matt.7:24-25). Jesus delivered this message on a mountain overlooking the Sea of Galilee. It’s quite a beautiful sight. But everyone who was listening to this message would have immediately known what Jesus was referring to here. The sand that encircled the Sea was hard as a rock on the surface over the hot summer. And believe me, it’s hot! Even in June, it’s hot. I was slightly upset the day I visited this place because it was a Triple H day (hazy, hot, and humid), and I couldn’t get a great shot of the Sea because it was so hazy. However, I eventually got some good shots. But the point is that over the hot summer, the sand is rock hard.

But over the winter months it was a different story, and they would get torrential downpours that could cause flooding. Guess what happens to the sand at that point? It’s not so rock hard anymore. So those that built their houses there knew that they needed to dig down under the surface to build the foundations for their homes. Sometimes they had to dig even 10 feet below the surface of the sand to get to the bedrock below and build their foundation from there. At that point, they knew it could withstand the heavy rains over the winter months.

Furthermore, Jesus tells us right away where He’s going with this story. He says that anyone who hears His words (the sermon He’s preaching) and DOES them, will be like this wise man. So Jesus is saying that it’s more than just hearing the Word, it’s also acting on what we hear. And this is a continual thing, not just a one-time deal. We need to continually hear God’s Word and DO God’s word. He doesn’t sugar coat it. That’s just the way it is.

The rock foundation that Jesus is talking about here is really obedience to God’s Word. The rock is the very words of Jesus and our obedience to His words (our actions). And this is something we must do on a continual basis. It takes time to build a house. It takes time to build a foundation. It takes time to base your whole life on God’s Word. So over time, that house withstands those storms because it was built the right way. It was built on the proper rock foundation below the surface (not unlike the root systems of tall oak trees).

Have you ever had a superficial friend? Have you ever known anyone who was a friend for a time but then when your life started to get hard, or something changed, he/she was gone? We’ve all been there. True friends are the ones who stick around even when you are at your most vulnerable point. Even when you are about to lose it, true friends will stick around and help to pick you up. In a similar way, a faith in Jesus Christ that is built on a solid relationship with Him (one that hears His Word and is obedient to His Word over time), is one that will stand the test of time. It will withstand the storms of life.

Have you ever heard the expression use it or lose it? Hearing God’s Word on a continual basis and doing it on a continual basis makes for a solid faith that can’t be lost or shaken when trouble comes. And trouble WILL come for all of us. That’s a given. But as we USE the Word of God, we will be strong. When we don’t, we lose ground, our faith becomes shaky, and those storms seem unbearable. Then we start to wonder where God is and question Him. But God’s right there the whole time! We’re the ones who are not doing His Word. We are the problem, not Him. We need to USE it or LOSE it. A sporadic use of God’s Word will be a sporadic faith. Knowledge of God’s Word (without action) is not enough. It just leads to an enlarged ego.

If our lives are based on anything other than the Bible (the Word of God), we’re not going to find the true satisfaction and happiness we’re looking for. It will always seem like something is missing. If we want to weather the storms of life, grow in our faith, and find true happiness, we must not just hear the Word of God, but DO the Word of God. And we can’t do the Word of God if we don’t believe it or use it as our manual for life. Have you ever wanted a manual for life? Have you ever wondered why one had not been written yet? It has! It’s called the B-I-B-L-E. That’s our solid rock foundation. And it will stand the test of time. “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8 NIV). And the person who FOLLOWS the Word is truly wise.

Day 2 – The Foolish Man

2. If we want to continue in our struggles, not grow in our faith, and not find a lasting happiness, just hearing the Word of God is sufficient (Matt.7:26-27). Now we have the exact opposite of our first point. We looked first at the wise man. But now Jesus tells us what happens to the other guy (the foolish man). Jesus says, This is what happens when you have sat and listened to My teaching and don’t do it. You’re an idiot! Of course, He does not use those exact words; however, He might as well since the foolish man only listens and doesn’t ACT on God’s Word. The foolish man has sat and listened to the whole Sermon on the Mount. Yet he walks away and doesn’t DO anything about what he heard.

This foolish man is the one who does not dig down under the sand and get to the rock. He just went ahead and built his house on the surface of the sand because it was quick and easy. The foolish man looked at that hard sand in the summer and said, That’s hard enough. I can build my house there. He didn’t think long-term. He didn’t plan for those winter rains. He didn’t plan for that sand (and his house) to get washed away.

Moreover, both houses look the same above the surface. No one can tell the difference until the storms come. The difference is what’s under the surface. The difference is spiritual. The difference is between someone who professes faith in Christ and someone who professes faith in addition to acting in obedience to God’s Word. Only the storms of life can flush out those who only hear and profess. Yet those that have heard and done the Word (over time) will withstand both the storms of life and the judgment of God. Instead of saying, I never knew you, Jesus will say, I’ve always known you. And the reward is no small matter: eternal life.

Sadly, not everyone really believes God’s Word. They might believe it CONTAINS God’s words. Or they might think it’s just another book. But it’s so much more than that. If you actually know what’s written in the Bible (and you’re living it out), you know it’s not just another book. This is our manual for life. And it’s either ALL true or it’s ALL a lie because God claims that it’s His Word and that it will stand forever. That’s either true or false. There is no gray area when it comes to God’s Word, the Bible. And if it IS true, then we need to follow it. We need to ACT on what it says. We must never forget, however, that it’s a continual action. When it comes to weathering the storms of life, we must be in the Word training every day AND using it. It’s so easy to get off course and slip and fall.

A little over 4 years ago, Olivia gave me a wonderful Christmas present. It was a trip to Israel. I was to go that following June. The gift, however, came with a condition. She said that I had to lose weight. I was around 206lbs at that time. Nevertheless, my motivation to make the pilgrimage to Israel was pretty great. So I started working out. And over a 4 month period, I lost almost 40 lbs! Even after the trip, I liked my new body and I wanted to keep it that way. So I maintained my new weight for about 3 years.

Unfortunately, once we moved to Enola to plant our first church, I stopped working out. And it was for good reasons. I never got lazy. I just got busy. Our whole lives were turned upside down and our focus shifted. But the problem was that, over time, my eating habits changed. Since I no longer worked out, I couldn’t eat as much and still maintain the same weight. Needless to say, those pounds started coming back on without detection. By the time I noticed, it was too late. It seemed like my clothes shrunk overnight. Currently, I now weigh 10 lbs more than I did before the initial weight loss. And I can’t blame the dryer for shrinking my clothes.

The Christian life is the same way. It’s so easy to slip. In fact, it’s easy to lose weight as a Christian initially because you’re so excited. The hard part is keeping the weight off over the years! We have to continue to study the Word and DO the Word in order to keep growing; otherwise, when those storms come up, we won’t make it. We become that foolish man without even realizing until it’s too late. The truth is that if we don’t get serious about God’s Word today, we never will. We must strike while the iron’s hot! But we need not do it alone. That’s what the church is here for. We can strengthen each other along the way. That’s just the way it is!

Day 3 – Which man (woman) will YOU choose to be?

The Sermon on the Mount comes to a conclusion with that story of the Wise Man and the Foolish Man. However, it is interesting that Matthew records what happens once Jesus is finished preaching. “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, for he taught with real authority-quite unlike their teachers of religious law (Matt.7:28-29 NLT). In today’s church, it seems that if people were actually challenged to live out the Word, they would all walk away. We seem to want to STUDY and HEAR the Word in abundance while not doing much of anything about it (except go to more Bible studies). But Jesus never gave us that option. He said, You gotta actually do this or it’s worthless!

And His audience didn’t walk away. They wanted to hear more! “Large crowds followed Jesus as he came down the mountainside (Matt.8:1 NLT). Instead of walking away, they followed Him off that mountain. Today, I think many church leaders have it all wrong. They think they need to water down God’s Word to draw large crowds. But I beg to differ. I believe that people WANT to hear God’s Word. I think they WANT to know it and understand it better. I think they would actually WANT to follow Him if they knew what He taught and had authentic leaders who also DO the Word rather than just preach it. Jesus did both. He led by example. Our leaders should too! That’s just the way it is!

People are looking for meaning and purpose to their lives. Honestly, I believe that people are generally unhappy, whether they want to admit it or not. But as the church, we need to show them Jesus Christ. We need to BE Good News. We need to teach them what the Bible actually says instead of forming an opinion about what they think they already know. As the church, we don’t need to change the Word. We need to DO the Word. We need to live by example. And God will change lives. OUR job isn’t to change people’s lives. That His job. But He does tell us to put His Word into practice.

Unfortunately, if we wait until the storm comes, we will fall like the house on the sand. The choice is ours to make, however. We either build it on the Word of God AND doing the Word, or we build it on the philosophies, religions, and opinions of the world. Let me know how that works out for you in the end! Experience tells me the latter choice doesn’t end well in this life or in the life to come!

Here’s 3 ways to put this Scripture (and the whole Sermon on the Mount) into practice:

1) Hear the Word (make time and effort to hear it). Attending church services is part of hearing God’s Word. Make it a habit. Make it regular. That’s where we can learn and be challenged by God’s Word (especially if we’re beginners). You can also read it on your own at home on a daily basis. Get a Bible that’s easy to read and understand. I recommend a modern translation. There are plenty available! The New Living Translation (NLT) is probably the one I would recommend if you’re just starting out. The English Standard Version (ESV) is great as well. But no matter what translation you use, just start reading and listening! Hear the Word.

2) Learn the Word (make time and effort to learn it). “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11NIV). That’s what is known as The Berean Challenge. So be a Berean! Study the Bible every day. We can do that personally at home or in a Missional Community setting. Sunday morning sermons aren’t enough. That’s only 1/7th of what we need! If we want to start to grow in our faith we need to learn the Word. And it takes time. Yet it’s a daily habit that’s worth starting! The above Bibles that I mentioned also have study Bible versions. I highly recommend getting a Study Bible that includes not only the text, but also study notes that help you to understand what you’re reading. Learn the Word.

3) Do the Word (make time and effort to do it). Once you hear it and study it, the only thing that’s left to do is to put it into practice. If you miss that part, you’ve missed the whole point. God doesn’t want us to just get smarter. For example, I can learn about weight loss. I can read about weight lifting and cardio, but unless I get my butt into gear and eat right and exercise, I won’t lose weight! Action is required if we want results that will last. We must DO the Word.

Missional Communities are a great way to learn how to DO the Word. MC’s do study the Bible, but we also take seriously Jesus’ Commission to go and make disciples. God intended us to work together, as the church, to accomplish His purposes. It was never meant to be every man for himself. The Christian life is one that needs to be shared and experienced in community with other believers. We’ll never really know what it’s like to truly live by faith and trust God until we DO His Word (together). That’s the only way to withstand the storms that come our way. That’s the only way to build our houses on the Rock. DO the Word. That’s just the way it is!!!

Day 4

Questions to consider…

  1. How do you learn best? Reading? Watching? Hands on? A combination?
  2. How much time do you normally spend hearing God’s Word? Learning God’s Word? Doing God’s Word? Would you consider yourself a beginner, intermediate, or advanced student of God’s Word? What qualifies you for that distinction?
  3. What gets you through a crisis? Do you ever doubt your faith or the goodness of God when bad things happen? Has your opinion changed over time? Why?

The Eternal Choice

“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it. Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions. Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws’” (Matt.7:13-23 NLT).

Day 1

Choices are funny things. Some of the choices we make are inconsequential. What should I wear today? Should I add that extra teaspoon of sugar to my coffee? Other choices are a little more serious. Should I go to work or call in sick, even though I’m not really sick? Should I quit my job and start a new career or stay and be miserable? Some choices are funny in a mean kind of way. Should I brush my teeth now or wait so I can kiss my wife with stinky breath first? Should I keep pulling the car forward (with the doors locked) so my wife can’t get in the car?

Nevertheless, some of the choices we make do make a difference. They’re not inconsequential. They’re not easy decisions. It could have to do with major life changes like moving to a new state to plant a new church where you don’t know anybody. It could have to do with family, kids, our health, and/or our jobs. Big decisions can change the course of our lives forever. Moreover, faith decisions have an impact, not just in this life, but also in eternity! And that’s where we’re headed this week. Jesus is now beginning His long conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount.

At this point, Jesus has finished saying what He wanted to say and His listeners are faced with a choice (the eternal choice). We can go on our merry way and pretend nothing has happened. Or we can take to heart what Jesus has said and make one of those faith decisions that impacts our eternal fate (in a positive way). So be careful as you read this week! We are about to pass the point of no return! We must make a choice. Jesus never gives us the option of sitting on the fence forever. We need to choose. In addition, He will give us clear insight on how to tell between a true follower of Christ and a fake Christian. Plus, He’ll give us a test so that we’ll be able to determine if we are on the right road or not.

1. Each of us must make a choice of whether or not to follow Christ (Matt.7:13-14). Jesus is telling us to make a choice in these verses. Moreover, His original audience would have understood what He was saying. They were quite familiar with this kind of reasoning. The two roads (in Jewish thought) went in opposing directions. One represented the road that leads to life (eternal life), and the other represented what leads to death (hell). Another way of explaining it would have been to describe a narrow road that was difficult, yet later broadened and led to a blessed, eternal life. In the end, the thought was that God wanted them to follow the narrow road which followed His will and His way for their lives, as opposed to the rest of the world that worshiped other gods and played by different rules.

In other words, He’s saying the narrow road is quite difficult. He’s saying that these teachings that He has been delivering are both challenging and demanding. However, the ultimate choice of whether to follow Jesus or not has eternal impact. The narrow road (despite difficulty) leads to eternal life, whereas the broad road (which is easy) leads to destruction. We must make a choice. Which road will we choose?

In addition, the original language employs an imperative. He’s saying, Enter. He’s clearly giving us the right answer. The narrow road is the one He wants us to take! Yet He won’t force us to do anything. There is another option: the broad road. However, we can only pick one. There is no middle of the road choice. Ultimately, when we’re talking about salvation in Jesus Christ, He is the gate! If we choose Him, we choose the narrow road. If we don’t, we choose the broad road. Nevertheless, we all must choose.

And this is where I might lose some readers! Our popular, me centered, politically correct, Western culture teaches the gospel of all roads lead to heaven. The vast majority (the broad road) says, We all worship the same God. They say, ALL religions point to the same God. But Jesus says, It just ain’t so! The Bible is clear on this issue. There is no gray area at all. It’s not up for debate or interpretation. In speaking of the name of Jesus, the book of Acts says, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 HCSB). In John 14:6, Jesus says something very similar: “I Myself am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6 HT (Hartlaub Translation)).

In fact, the very name of the early church should give us a clue! It was known as “The Way” (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 24:14, 22). That was in reference to Jesus’ words above (John 14:6). You don’t get a name like that by being politically correct and ALL inclusive. Jesus is the ONLY Way! Choosing Him is the ONLY real option. We have the freedom to make a different choice; however, we must be prepared to accept the consequences. Furthermore, we must be sure we are choosing the REAL Jesus and not one that we’ve invented. Jesus is the Way. He is the Narrow Gate. He’s referring to Himself. There is no other way to enter the narrow road that leads to life other than Jesus Christ. Yet we must enter on His terms. It can’t be the terms that we’ve conveniently invented for ourselves. Nevertheless, we must make a choice.

As parents, there comes a time when we have to let our kids go to make their own choices. It happens in several stages as they grow up. We have to let them go on the first day of kindergarten. It’s hard watching them get on that bus and seeing them disappear out of sight! In fact, I cried like a baby each time one of my kids graduated the Hartlaub Academy and went off to Kindergarten. I didn’t want to let them go! I didn’t want things to change or to lose control. I wanted to continue making good decisions for them. The thought of them making a bad choice or getting hurt in any way scared me to death. It still does!

Moreover, it gets even worse over time! It’s hard enough watching some of them graduate to middle school. I can’t imagine what it will be like to see each one go off to college. Then they’ll start making even more choices when I’m not around to protect them! Truth be told, good parents obviously want what’s best for their children. Good parents want to protect them as long as they can and they want them to make wise decisions. Nevertheless, there does come a day when they go off on their own and make their own decisions. Until that time, we do the best we can, we raise them right, and we hope and pray that we did a good job!

And when it comes to following Christ, we all have to make a choice. Every individual person makes that choice. God has given us the responsibility to do that. We can’t make the choice for our kids. And as much as I would like to, I can’t make the choice for YOU. And YOU can’t make that choice for your loved ones either. Sadly (according to Jesus), only a few make the right choice. The broad road has many followers, but the narrow road has only a few. Unfortunately, not everyone is going to heaven. Yet it’s our choice to make.

Day 2

2. You can distinguish between true and false leaders by how they live their lives (Matt.7:15-20). Now that the reader has been made aware of the choice to be made, Jesus now warns us of those who will try to keep us off that narrow road and/or cause us to stumble along the way. In this next section, Jesus gives us the tools to be able to tell the difference between a true prophet and a false prophet.

In addition, Jesus employs another imperative. He says, Beware! Furthermore, it’s active. We must continually beware of false prophets. We have to continually be sensitive to what’s around the corner while we’re on the narrow road. In spiritual terms, we can be on the narrow road while the guy walking right next to us is on the broad road. That’s why we need to beware. It’s not as easy as heading south on I-95 while the bad guys are running through stop lights on another road far away. It’s not always obvious, in the physical realm, to spot the spiritual reality.

So how do we recognize these false prophets (false leaders)? Jesus gives us the answer. At that time (and in that place), shepherds wore garments of sheepskin. The skin was on the outside while the wool was on the inside (a fashion faux pas by today’s standards). But the truth is that anyone could wear it. Anyone could put on the outfit. Yet that didn’t mean that they were actually a shepherd. They could’ve been wolves in sheep’s clothing. Unfortunately, sheep had something to fear since wolves were their number one enemy (Acts 20:29; John 10:12) They were quite dangerous. They still are 2,000 years later!

In fact, the Old Testament also mentioned how to tell a true prophet from a false prophet. And it wasn’t complicated. If what the prophet said was going to happen actually took place, he was considered a true prophet. If not, he was false. Also, if the prophet tried to lead people away from following the one true God, they were also false. They could even be performing miracles, but if they asked the people to follow other gods, they were considered false prophets (Deut.13:1-5; 18:21-22). Even in the New Testament, false prophets were trying to deceive people in the same ways (Matt.24:24; 2 John 7; 1 John 4:1-3).

So Jesus explains here that we can recognize them by their fruits. What does He mean by that? He means that we need to watch their lives carefully. Even though they can pretend for a while, the truth will eventually come out. We must watch their behavior. We must pay attention to what they teach. Does it line up with God’s Word? There are plenty of teachings out there today that sound awesome. They fit in pretty packages. They take major liberties with basic Bible teachings. They don’t ask us to change. They change God’s Word and water it down to please people. We know it’s false because it contradicts basic Bible doctrines. Yet many people gobble it up word for word because it’s easy and convenient. It caters to our Western, individualized, and selfish culture.

But God’s Word is supposed to change us! It’s supposed to make us uncomfortable. It’s supposed to transform us into the image of Jesus (Rom.8:29). If we weren’t supposed to change, we wouldn’t need Jesus. If we weren’t supposed to change, we could all just stay home and do whatever we want! However, that’s not what the Bible teaches. Jesus says that we can spot a false prophet by the way He acts and the way he handles God’s Word.

He says that we can tell what kind of tree it is by the fruit it produces. There have always been bushes, thistles, and plants that can be mistaken for fruit or flowers at first glance. But people can’t be fooled for long. Upon closer examination, it’s easy to spot the difference. So He clarifies by saying that a good tree will produce good fruit and a bad tree will produce bad fruit. If they are true prophets, you’ll be able to tell over time if you are paying attention to their lives.

The best illustration for this was given to me by one of my mentors in the faith years ago. Before going into the ministry, he was a manager for a popular grocery store chain. And he had seen a lot in his day, but one time a lady came up to him and surprised him with something he’d never seen before. She said, Take a look at this bottle. What is it? He said, Well ma’am, I believe it’s ketchup. And she said, Uh huh. That’s what I thought. You know why I thought that? And he said, Because it’s in a ketchup bottle. That’s right, she said. Because it’s in a ketchup bottle. But do you know what this really is?

After a slight pause, he said, Ketchup? But she replied, No it’s not ketchup. It’s mustard. Of course, this went on for a while (since he didn’t believe her), but when she squeezed that bottle, the contents were NOT red! Mustard came out of a ketchup bottle. I think I’ve shared that story a hundred times. The truth is that you can hide what you are for a while, but when you get squeezed, your true colors will emerge (John 10:9-15; 15:1- 14; 2 Peter 2:1). And what happens to the bad tree that produces bad fruit? It’s thrown into the fire! Why? Because he’s trying to deceive God’s people. He’s trying to destroy their lives, so God destroys him.

Unfortunately, not everyone has good intentions. We need to constantly be on our guard against false prophets who wish to do us harm. We also need to hold fast to the faith we profess in Jesus and not give up or be deceived along the way. If we are studying God’s Word and striving to be faithful to Him, He’ll keep us on the right path. And we’ll be able to easily spot a false prophet along the way. But we still do need leaders! And the first step in finding out if we are on the right path or not starts with following the right leaders.

Day 3

3. The test of true salvation is if there are actions to back up the change in your life (Matt.7:21-23). The number one determining factor in figuring out if you are on the narrow road is to look at your life. I don’t know how many people I’ve talked to who say they don’t go to church. They don’t read God’s Word or pray. They don’t really have any desire at all to live for Him. Yet they claim to be saved. They claim to be Christians even though their actions prove they are on the broad road. They enthusiastically confirm that they prayed a prayer one day at the end of a church service. They prayed to accept Jesus as their Savior. However, they do not go to church anymore or have time for God. In fact, their lives do not reflect godly values at all. Moreover, they have no intention of ever changing their lifestyle. Thus, by their own admission, they have absolutely no relationship with God.

The point Jesus is making here is that those who are truly on the narrow road are the ones who actually follow God’s will and plan for their lives. Unfortunately, an empty prayer (without life transformation to back it up) equals nothing. It’s just words. Has your life changed since making that commitment to Jesus? Has He done a miracle in your life? Have you turned from your sins and have you started to honor Him with your life? That’s the real miracle. The evidence of walking on the narrow road is a changed life. That’s not legalism. And it’s not something we can work for. Only God can save. Only God can transform our lives. But when He does, there will be evidence of that transformation.

If that wasn’t clear enough, Jesus continues by describing people who perform miracles. At the time of the judgment, they complain to God and say, Didn’t we do miracles? Isn’t that a sign that I’m saved? And Jesus says, That’s not the mark of a true believer. Your actions need to back up your profession of faith! Miracles alone are not a sign of salvation. Satan and his demons can do some pretty crazy things! They have a LOT of power and can do some major damage. But that’s not the mark of a Christian.

I’m always shocked when I hear people making fun of “Non-Charismatic” believers such as myself. Somehow (in their minds), I’m a “lesser” Christian (or not even a true believer) because I can’t speak in tongues or do miracles. But God is the one who does miracles! However, if I ever do claim that I’m doing miracles, you better watch out! Only God can do that. He does use people, but it’s God’s power, not ours. Moreover, it’s not THE mark of a true believer. Not everyone has that gift. I wish I did, but I don’t. It would make planting churches a heck of a lot easier if I could just heal people who are blind, paralyzed, have inoperable cancer, missing limbs, and all kinds of different incurable diseases! That would certainly draw a crowd and bring in some money!

But what would be the point of those miracles? What was the point of miracles in the Bible? Was it to show off? No. It was to bring people to faith in Jesus. It was to prove that Jesus was who He said He was. It was so that people would turn from their sins and accept Him as their Savior. The real miracle is a transformed life! The true miracle is that we turn from our sins, place our faith in Jesus, live godly lives, and make more disciples.

So don’t let miracles fool you. They can actually be from another power source. Some of us might even witness it in our lifetime (Acts 19:13-16; 2 Thess.2:9-12; Rev.13:13-14). But if the performer of those miracles is not living a transformed life, watch out! When the power source is God, it will be backed up by, and in line with, His Word. And the point will be to bring people to faith in Jesus. A genuine relationship with Jesus is what it’s all about. And He will change our lives to line up with His Word. Sadly, the false followers have the same destiny: Hell. But God doesn’t desire hell for anyone (Ezek.18:30-32; 33:11; 1 Tim.2:3-6). He wants us to turn from sin and turn to Him.

And we’re all in the same boat. We’ve all sinned (Rom.3:23; 6:23). That’s what the Bible says. The enemy is the one who constantly beats us up for our past. Yet God is our biggest fan and preparing us for our future with Him! It’s all about the here and now (not beating ourselves up about the past), recognizing where we are (being honest with ourselves and each other), and allowing God to change us from the inside out (our efforts don’t usually last but His do). That’s not legalism. That’s grace.

Once upon a time there was a doctor who was seeing a patient. It was early in the morning and he wasn’t quite awake yet, but he made it into the office. A young man came in complaining that his arm hurt. The x-ray revealed that his arm was broken. The doctor said, As soon as the swelling goes down, we’ll cast you up and you’ll be as good as new in 6 weeks. But the young man said, That’s not possible. I’m offended by that. I have things to do. I’ve got to use that arm. Who are you to stand there and judge me? Just give me a painkiller and I’ll be on my way. A cast? Are you kidding me? I don’t have time for that. My arm’s not that bad. I see that it’s broken, but lots of people have broken bones and they don’t get casts.

The doctor looked at him, wishing he had called in sick that day and said, Look. I just want you to get better. If you just let me do my job and put the cast on, you’ll feel a lot better. And after six weeks, that arm will be stronger than it was before. But the young man wouldn’t listen and he left. Then he went and told other people not to go to that doctor because he was too narrow minded. That’s a silly story but it sadly reflects how our politically correct culture operates. Our God doesn’t want to beat us down, make us feel guilty, or hurt us in any way. He wants to HELP us get it together BEFORE the judgment, not after! In fact, as we try to live this out in our Missional Communities, we are constantly learning to help each other and shoulder the burden together. That’s not being judgmental. That’s not legalism. It’s called the church! It’s called community. It’s called family.

Day 4

Read the books of James and 1 John today. They are both short books, but they will reemphasize what Jesus is teaching in this passage…

So after reading the books, How do these books relate to what Jesus is teaching us in the Sermon on the Mount? Is it easy to see, after reading these books, that knowledge alone does nothing without the accompanying action? Is it enough to SAY you love your brother or do our actions speak louder than our words?

Obviously, I hope I’ve made the point that there should be evidence in our lives of the salvation we have received. Singing songs on Sunday morning and dressing up for church does not get anyone into heaven or give them a vibrant relationship with our Creator. Being a member of a church does not get us into heaven. Good works do not wipe our sins away. We need to make the choice to follow Christ. And we need to turn from our sin. Moreover, if we think we have made the choice but our lives have not changed, we are deceiving ourselves. We can’t produce that change on our own. Only God can do that. We can be willing participants, but God produces the transformation we need. Nevertheless, there must be a notable difference over time.

The application to this passage is tricky. In one sense, we might think, I’m not sure if I’m a true believer. I’ve never heard this presented this way before. I believe in Jesus, but I’m not sure that I’ve given my life to Him, specifically made the choice to follow Him, or received Him as my Savior. There hasn’t been a change in my life. I thought that if I just prayed the prayer of faith, that was it, and I could go on my merry way and live however I wanted. I didn’t know that this was actually going to cost me something. In another sense, you might be a true believer who is further down the narrow road, yet you need some fine tuning and readjustments along the way. Look back over your life and honestly think about where you are and talk to God about it.

Day 5

Questions to consider…

  1. Has there ever been a time in your life where you consciously made the CHOICE to be a follower of Jesus? Have you placed your faith in Him? Since that day, has there been a change in your life? If not, have you just ASSUMED you’re a Christian? Have you ASSUMED you’ll go to heaven one day because you’re not as bad as the next guy and you try to be a good person? If you’re not sure if you’ve placed your faith in Jesus (or you know you haven’t), ask someone in your group (or the whole group) how to begin a relationship with Jesus and commit yourself to letting God change you, from the inside out, through Jesus. If you’re not part of a Missional Community and/or a local church, contact me! I’ll get you hooked up with someone local to where you are!
  2. Who was your favorite teacher in school (at any level: elementary, middle, high school, or college)? Why was he/she your favorite? What made him/her stand out above the rest? Do you have a favorite spiritual leader? Who was/is it and why?
  3. Evaluate yourself as a believer. What do you think God is trying to say to you through this particular passage? If you’re already sure you’re on the narrow road, what could God be trying to teach you right now about Himself, you, and the people in your life that need to find Jesus? Is God calling you to step it up into a leadership role in the church, to lead a missional community, to be a better parent, and/or spouse? Score yourself on a scale of 1-10 (1 = crap and 10 = completely like Jesus (Jesus is the ONLY 10)) and pray that God will slide you (transform you) up the scale over the next year. Share your findings with the group. See if they agree or disagree with your assessment.

 

 

The Secret Weapon for the Christian Life

“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. You parents-if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him. Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets” (Matt.7:7-12 NLT)

Day 1

Have you ever seen the movie Facing the Giants? I LOVE that movie, especially the scene where the coach challenges the player to do the Death Crawl. It’s such an incredible motivator and inspiration to see that kid carry his fellow player across the entire football field blindfolded. All he has is the coach screaming in his ear (over and over again) for him NOT to give up. Watching that scene has encouraged me (and countless others) to not give up, to always give our best, and to not lose hope. The only thing that could make that movie better is if it was a true story and not fiction.

Unfortunately, reality (and experience) has taught me that it’s not always that easy. More often than not (in real life), it seems that the more we try, the more we fail. That’s just a part of life no matter what we do or who we are. But as we continue through the Sermon on the Mount, I want to encourage us all to pray. Jesus has talked a lot about prayer so far in the Sermon on the Mount. He’s taught us to pray with the right motivations and He’s taught us HOW to pray, but this time He encourages us to keep on praying.

But before we look at what He says in this passage, be honest with yourself (and your Missional Community). Since the last time we looked at prayer, how has your prayer life been? Has it improved? Or, despite your best intentions, has it taken a backseat to your hectic, busy schedule? I’m about to let you in on the best kept secret of the Christian life. And then we’ll unpack that secret over the next five days. The Secret Weapon for the Christian Life is Prayer. Before you roll your eyes in unbelief, make sure you take the time to read and reflect with me over the next 5 days while putting these thoughts into practice. Over time, you will agree with me. I promise. I can’t get through even one day without prayer. I wouldn’t want to! I do hope you’ll feel the same way once you’ve put this into practice over the next few months.

1. God wants to answer us, if only we would take the TIME to ask (Matt.7:7-8)! Based on everything Jesus has said so far in the Sermon on the Mount, He’s saying (to the people hearing it live AND to us thousands of years later), He wants us to pray! He’s saying He wants us to ask the Father about our problems. He wants us to come to Him with our issues, whatever they might be (making a judgment call, help with anger management, lust, greed, or whatever issue/s we have)!

Furthermore, asking for help is an act of humility. It’s saying that we can’t control the situation. It’s admitting that we need help. We have to come to God and ask for help because we can’t fix it. Only He can. As much as we think we’re in control, we’re not. God wants us to ask Him for help. We simply need to reach out and ask. That takes humility.

Seeking is our responsibility. We need to be humble enough to ask. Yet we also have the responsibility to put forth an effort in prayer. And that takes time. We have to make the time to ask. Nevertheless, we make time for what’s important. Too often, prayer is an afterthought. Too often, we use prayer as a last resort in a crisis instead of an everyday reliance on (and conversation with) God. Too often, we use the excuse that we’re too busy. And that is the truth. We are all too busy. But we MAKE the time for what’s important. And I’m here to tell you that prayer is worth the time. In fact, it’s a vital component to a healthy Christian life.

Finally, knocking suggests perseverance and persistence. God wants us to KEEP asking, KEEP seeking, and KEEP knocking. This happens over time. It’s not a once and done thing. We must persevere, persist, and wait for the answers. We must be patient. Yet we must also be persistent. In the original language, the present tense is used here. Furthermore, it’s an imperative. It’s not an option. He’s not saying, “Um, OK well, if you feel like it, ask Me.” No! He’s saying ASK (and KEEP asking)! SEEK (and KEEP seeking)! KNOCK (and KEEP knocking)! In other words, pray (and KEEP praying)!

That doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that we will get everything we want and/or ask for (a new car, a million dollars, a new house, an IPAD, the latest smart phone). It first has to be according to God’s Word and will. We learned that already when we looked at the Lord’s Prayer! The truth is that God wants to hear from us OFTEN. He WANTS to answer our prayers. But we have to MAKE the time for Him. We have to ASK Him. Is He important enough for you to take the time to talk to Him? What could be more important than God in your life?

A great relationship with God and a great prayer life doesn’t happen by osmosis. It doesn’t happen automatically. It takes time and effort on our part. I know it might sound legalistic, but it’s not. It’s biblical. Jesus said it. So please don’t shoot me! I’m only the messenger! Nevertheless, even though God requires effort on our part, He does the answering. He does the giving. He causes us to find our way, and He’s the One who opens the door.

And if we’re busy doing what He asked us to do (seeking His kingdom and living righteously), we won’t have time to get stressed out. Unfortunately, every time I ask someone who is struggling with their faith or some major issue, I ask them the same question: How much TIME do you spend with God every day (reading His Word and praying)?” Unfortunately, almost 100% of the time, the answer is Zero. So why do we get mad at God when we struggle? If we don’t even acknowledge Him in our everyday lives, what should we expect?

Day 2

2. God does NOT want to trick us; He wants us to trust Him (Matt.7:9-11)! The comparisons Jesus makes here would have made sense to His audience. The objects He’s talking about actually resembled each other. A round loaf of bread would have resembled a smooth stone. In addition, there were certain fish in the Sea of Galilee that resembled snakes. Obviously, the stone was not edible and the snake would have been quite dangerous. But Jesus is saying, Look guys, when you are praying, don’t think of God as out to get you or out to trick you. Think about your own children. If they come to you and ask for something, you’re not going to trick them are you? No. You’re going to give them what they ask for and/or what’s best for them.

As usual, the real issue is trust (faith). So when we pray, we are to keep asking, keep seeking, and keep knocking. Moreover, we are supposed to trust God to provide us with what He considers best. We need to expect answers for our prayers (for sure), but we also need to know that the answers He provides (and the timing) don’t always line up with what we expect. Yet we need to trust Him. If we don’t trust Him, we won’t pray. And if we don’t pray, we won’t get answers. He knows what’s best for us. Just like we know what’s best for our children, He knows what we need. And we HAVE to trust Him, especially when the answers are slow to come and/or we don’t understand them. He’s saying, Parents generally do want what’s best for their kids. They’re not going to trick them. And their kids instinctively trust them. So if that’s the case, how much more do you think God Almighty wants to take care of His children?

Every year, my wife and I ask our kids to make a Christmas list. They seem to get longer and more specific each and every year (and more expensive)! Nevertheless, if it’s affordable (and do-able), we like to try to get them what they want. Why? Because we love our kids and we want them to be happy. Moreover, they’re the best kids in the world (I might be biased here), so we try to reward them accordingly. What about when something happens at night? When our kids are scared during a storm, they usually run into our room and ask to sleep in bed with us. So what do we do? We let them crawl in. Why? Because we care about them. They ask us and want to be with us because they love us and trust us. They think that somehow we can protect them during the storm. I don’t have the heart to tell them that if we get struck by lightning, we’re all going feel the burn. Nevertheless, being with us makes them feel safe!

If that’s how we as parents feel and act, how much more will Almighty God (Creator of Heaven and Earth) take care of us and answer our prayers when we consistently talk to Him and ask Him in prayer? How much better will it be for us if we are trusting Him with our problems and crawling into bed with Him and giving Him our Christmas lists? He’s actually able to help us during our storms (unlike me). We just need to trust Him. And when He doesn’t seem to be giving us the answers we want, we need to stop complaining and telling Him what OUR will is and trust that HIS is better. He’s got our backs.

Therefore, The Secret Weapon for the Christian Life is not actually a secret at all. It should be common, biblical sense. The problem, however, is that common sense never seems to be common. We don’t take time to pray. We take prayer for granted. We assume we’ve already said it and/or that we’re too busy to set aside quality time for it. We assume that God already knows (which He does) and that He’ll understand that we’re busy. But He wants to hear from us. He wants us to talk to Him and He wants us to trust Him. It’s about having a RELATIONSHIP with Him. But a healthy relationship can’t happen if we don’t spend time with Him. Moreover, it can’t happen in a hurry or once in a Blue Moon.

If we’re not praying, we shouldn’t be mad at God when He doesn’t come through. We should be mad at ourselves. If we’re not praying, there is no power in our lives. If we’re not praying, we are most likely struggling, trying to do it on our own, and our relationship with God is strained. The secret weapon (and the secret ingredient) that we all need is prayer. That’s where the power in our lives comes from. So instead of complaining about our lot in life, we ask God to help us through it. There might be a good reason for it.

One of the biggest mistakes people make (once they do start praying), is that when He answers their prayer, they stop praying. They stop going to church. Sadly, they wait until the next crisis comes. Then the circle begins again. Of course we need to pray during the hard times, but we also need to thank Him when the hard times are over. It can’t stop. We can’t just run to Him in a crisis. We need to run to Him and trust in Him every day (during the good, the bad, the ugly, and the mundane)! That’s how the relationship grows over time.

Day 3

3. The Golden Rule is to treat others how you wish to be treated (Matt.7:12). Does this verse go with this section? Is it out of place? Does it stand alone? What in the world does this have to do with prayer? This verse is actually the conclusion of a very long section that started back in Matthew 5:17-20 where Jesus said that He came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. Then He went on to give examples of how we can go deeper (Under the Surface) than superficial religion. He talked about anger, lust, divorce, oaths, retaliation, loving your enemies, giving to the poor, prayer, fasting, money, not worrying about all of that stuff, and judging.

Now Jesus is summing everything up as He prepares for His long conclusion. And this statement (The Golden Rule) is the epitome of the Old Testament and the Sermon on the Mount: Treat others how YOU wish to be treated. It’s short, sweet, and easy to remember. But that statement is NOT a big secret. And Jesus wasn’t the first one to say it. Different versions of the Golden Rule have been found in many places in ancient literature. It has been found in Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. Greek and Roman teachers taught it as well. Like so many other things, knowledge of the Golden Rule is only half the battle. Application is the real challenge!

In our house, we try to set electronics aside from time to time and hold family game nights. One time, a few years back, we all decided to play I Declare War. Since we wanted to do it together (and since there are so many of us), we decided to bend the rules to accommodate all six players. When we did that, it didn’t leave many cards to start out with. Some of us went out quickly while others had great success. At one point, Ethan ran out of cards (and was clearly upset) and Lincoln gave him some (one of which was a joker). And I said, Lincoln! What are you doing? Don’t give away your joker!

And he started to cry. But do you know what Lincoln said? With tears in his eyes, he said, Well he keeps running out of cards and I want all of us to play. It took everything I had not to cry, even though the kids know I’m a crybaby anyway! Most of us are fiercely competitive people. We always want more. We want what we can’t have. We compete to beat other people out. In general, all games are the same. Someone wants to beat someone else. We all want to win. But with Lincoln’s actions, I had the privilege and honor of witnessing the essence of the Golden Rule: Treat others how you wish to be treated. I told you my kids were the best kids in the world (I’m still biased)!

Doing the Golden Rule doesn’t ensure that you WILL be treated the same, but it’s what God wants us to do (even when we are treated poorly). And that’s the heart of the Good News. Jesus, God in the flesh, gave up everything to save the world. He came to His own people, yet they killed Him. They rejected Him. But He still willingly died for them (John 1:11-14; Rom.5:6-9). He willingly did for others what He wanted them to do for Him (even though it was not reciprocated). But the Good News is that He didn’t stay in the grave! He rose from the dead.

“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil.2:3-11 NLT).

Day 4

In case you missed it, The Secret Weapon for the Christian Life is Prayer! And just as God answers our prayers and is looking out for what is best for us (and His plan), we need to also treat others the same way. We need to treat others how we want to be treated. Here’s two things you can do to put this in practice this week and beyond.

1) PUSH! Pray Until Something Happens! That’s not new or original. I stole that from someone who stole it from someone who stole it from someone. It’s just one of the basics that never changes. Jesus wants us to pray and pray and pray until we get what we’re asking for! If we are not praying, we are missing out on our opportunity to trust God. We’re missing out on His power in our lives. TIME Plus TRUST Plus TENACITY Equals RESULTS (and a SUCCESSFUL Prayer Life). No time and no trust does not equal results or a successful prayer life. That would equate to a FULL OF SUCK Prayer Life!

Therefore, be persistent in your prayers! Cry out to God like there’s no tomorrow and like this is the last prayer you will ever pray! Keep asking, keep seeking, and keep knocking. Again, this is nothing new. God told us this thousands of years ago in the Old Testament: “And if you search for him with all your heart and soul, you will find him” (Deut.4:29 NLT). In addition, Jesus told a parable about someone who wouldn’t give up and kept asking until she got justice. Read it and meditate on that story tomorrow (Luke 18:1-8).

My man, Tim Tebow, has more persistence, class, hope, endurance, and patience in his left pinky toe than most of us have in our whole body. Just after he was cut by the Patriots, He posted this on his Facebook Page: “The moment you’re ready to quit is usually the moment right before the miracle happens” (Tim Tebow). So don’t quit! Don’t give up! Keep praying! Be persistent! You just might find out you’re a Prayer Warrior!

Here’s more Scripture you can read, mediate on, and pray about over the next few days and weeks: Col.4:2, 12; Eph.6:18; Rom.12:12; Phil.4:6; 1 Thess.1:3; 2:13; 5:17, 25; Jude 20; Acts 12:5; Rom.1:9; 2 Tim.1:3. The squeaky wheel gets the oil! So keep on praying and trust God that He knows what He’s doing. Expect answers. Wait for the answers. Listen back to what He’s saying to you while you wait. And don’t forget to praise Him when the results start pouring in (Psalm 27:14)! And then keep on praying! Never stop praying (1 Thess.5:17)!

2) Treat others how YOU want to be treated! I’ll have to be honest. Sometimes there is no satisfaction in this at all. But we will have satisfaction one day when eternity begins. Sometimes we do all the right things, we say all the right things, and we treat people as good as we can, but we still get treated like crap. Hang in there! God is watching. And anything you do for Him (and in the name of Jesus) will not go unnoticed! If nothing else, those treasures are being stored in heaven (Matt.6:20).

Day 5

Questions to consider…

  1. Since the last time we looked at prayer, how has your prayer life been? Has anything changed? Or has prayer continued to take a backseat to your hectic, busy schedule?
  2. Discuss your prayer life with the group. Would you say that you’re in a good place or that you need improvement? Have you tried every once in a while and failed? Or have you been persistent while finding success over time?
  3. What’s your attitude towards prayer? Has anyone ever discipled you in prayer?
  4. Can you think of a time in your life where you treated someone like you wanted to be treated and the results were positive? What about a time where you treated someone well but they didn’t appreciate it or treat you well? Share your stories with the group.

The Judgment Zone: 4 Ways to Make a Good Judgment Call

“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye. Don’t waste what is holy on people who are unholy. Don’t throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you” (Matt.7:1-6 NLT).

Day 1

Have you ever been in a situation where you jumped to a conclusion before you had all of the facts? I know I have. Sometimes circumstantial evidence can look pretty bad. However, experience (and life in general) has taught me to painstakingly gather all of the appropriate information before rushing to judgment! Nevertheless, there are other situations where we do have all of the facts and we still feel the need to judge people. Sometimes our judgments are right and sometimes they’re flat out wrong. Sometimes when we judge, we feel superior to other people. We say, Wow. I can’t believe she did that! I would never do that! In thinking (or saying that), we stand as judge and jury over people. Unfortunately, we don’t associate with them, we talk behind their backs, and/or look down on them after our judgment has been rendered.

The other extreme is the people who never judge. They have this anything goes mentality that says, Hey. If that’s what you want, then go for it. Who am I to judge? That’s the I will never judge anyone for anything syndrome. That one can actually be very destructive as well. You might be thinking, Wait a minute! What’s the deal? Are you saying that sometimes it is ok to make a judgment? Are you saying that sometimes you can step in and say something? I thought we weren’t supposed to judge. Didn’t Jesus say that?

My answer to that question is a question: What does the Bible say about judging people? Most Christians might know part of what we’ll be covering today. They know that the Bible says, Do not judge. Regrettably, they take that and apply it to any and every situation. Yet that is one of the most misunderstood, misused, and abused sections of Scripture. Do not judge has become, Anything Goes! I can do whatever I want, so don’t judge me! But is that really what Jesus is teaching us in the Sermon on the Mount?

What does Jesus actually say about judging people? That’s a GREAT question! I’m so glad you asked! As usual, what Jesus is talking about has a lot to do with our motivation. It has to do with where our hearts are. In fact, that’s where judging comes into play here in this section of Scripture. Not all judging is necessarily bad! Sometimes, with the proper motivation, heart, and purpose, it can be a GOOD thing. So for the next five days, take everything you THINK you already know about this passage (and subject) and place it on the shelf. Come on a journey with me as we examine this passage!

1. If we have a judgmental attitude towards others, we must realize that God is the ultimate Judge and we will be judged accordingly (Matt.7:1-2)! Jesus opens His discourse on judging with a warning. He’s saying, Don’t judge! If you do, you’re going to be judged in the same way and with the same amount of scrutiny! Moreover, however strict you are with your judgment, that same level will be used against you when you are judged. And who will that Judge be? God Almighty! So what is Jesus saying? If you dish it out, you better be prepared to take it!

What’s supposed to happen when you throw a boomerang? It’s supposed to come back. So what Jesus is talking about here is comparable to the boomerang from hell for the highly judgmental person. It’s going to come back and bite you in the butt pretty hard based on how hard you threw it. Yet it’s not actually from hell. It’s from heaven! God is the judge and He’s the only One worthy enough to judge because He is completely just and impartial. He doesn’t play favorites (Rom.2:11).

Have you ever heard the expression, What goes around comes around? That’s what He’s talking about here. If you’re the kind of person who goes around picking apart everything everyone does with a fine-toothed comb, you need to be aware of the consequences. If you’re watching and waiting to catch everyone’s mistakes, it’s like you’re walking on thin ice. It could break at any time! One day, you might be in the same boat as the person you’re criticizing; however, the Someone who’s going to scrutinize YOUR every move is God Almighty.

He might be standing up in heaven doing a Sting impersonation right now! “Every breath you take. And every move you make. Every bond you break. Every step you take. I’ll be watching you” (Sting). Jesus is saying here that the ball is in OUR court. God doesn’t want to waste His time picking us apart. He wants to HELP us. Unfortunately, He has to be the bad guy sometimes in order for us to learn. With the measure we use, it will be measured to us.

What is Jesus getting at here? Our attitude. Everyone makes mistakes. Yet nobody wants their mistakes judged and splattered all over social media for everyone to scrutinize. So before we judge, we need to consider how we would feel if that would happen to us. Poetic justice can be a nasty monster when it gets back to us! Furthermore, there is no upside to a judgmental attitude. There’s nothing positive about ripping people down. It never ends well. It seems the opposite of the message Jesus is trying to deliver.

Do you remember a few of the Beatitudes? It’s how Jesus began this whole sermon. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt.5:6-9 ESV). A judgmental person with a negative attitude is not hungering and thirsting for righteousness. He’s not merciful at all. He’s not a peacemaker. He’s a troublemaker.

What are some of the everyday things we judge people for? We judge people by the way they look, how they cut their hair, how they dress, and what they look like (as if we had any control over that). We even judge people on the decisions they make. If we don’t agree with so and so because he took a new job or tries something new and/or takes a chance, we judge because we think he’s making a mistake. We judge people all the time.

We judge people by what they do for a living. We judge people by their personalities. In addition, we selfishly judge people by the decisions they make based on how it affects us. We judge all the time. These kinds of judgments are all negative and they are what Jesus is preaching against here. Remember, however, that God’s standard is perfection! So unless you’re perfect, watch out! You reap what you sow (Gal.6:7-8)! The point is that NOBODY is perfect, except for God alone. “We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check” (James 3:2 NIV).

Day 2

2. If we have the right attitude, we can help others without judgment (Matt.7:3-5 ESV). The illustration that Jesus presents in verses 3-5 is appropriate since He was a carpenter. The speck that He is referring to could be sawdust. Or it could be anything that irritates your eye. However, that speck would be much different from the speck that Whoville is located on in Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss! In addition, the log would be a much larger piece of wood. Perhaps it would help to think of it in modern terms like a 2×4 or even a telephone pole! The idea is that something very small (like sawdust or a piece of dirt) is in someone’s eye, while something very large (like a 2×4 or a telephone pole) is in your eye!

Nevertheless, the point Jesus is trying to make here is twofold. First, Jesus is talking about that judgment we just made. He saying that we have no right to have a judgmental attitude of others because we have our own issues to deal with! We have no right to judge, feel superior to anyone else, or be prideful in any way because we have issues in our own life we need to fix first before we open our mouths or close our minds in judgment. Second, He’s guarding against hypocrisy. Remember, a hypocrite is an actor, a pretender. Hypocrites are actors on a stage playing different roles and wearing different masks depending on the show they’re doing. They are not real about who they are. They live a lie with no regard for the truth. And they do it for praise from people. So Jesus is calling out heart issues that need to be corrected.

It’s like the old expression of the pot calling the kettle black. The idea is that both of the pots are stained black. They both have the same problem! It all depends on your point of view. If you are always looking from your point of view (outward), you won’t see your own faults. Yet when you hold up a mirror, perhaps you will. Jesus’ suggestion here is that we hold up that mirror, fix our own issues, and then try to HELP the other person. This is where the plot thickens! What needs to be stressed here is that when Jesus says don’t judge, He’s saying don’t be a hypocrite. He’s saying fix your issues first.

If we do that, we guard against becoming Pharisees. Unfortunately, what has happened in the church is that the LOUDEST voice always wins. Those that seem to be the most spiritual and most mature (those that can quote the most Scripture and sit on the Elder Board), seem to fit the bill of hypocrite more often than not. They tend to pick out everything you do that’s wrong and pretend that they are holier than thou! What I have found, however, is that the people who judge the most are those that have the most to hide. Moreover, don’t forget that there were plenty of Pharisees in Jesus’ audience for this sermon!

Nevertheless, there is another side to the coin. Just because we’re not supposed to negatively judge or be hypocrites does not mean we can’t HELP with the right intentions and motivations! If we take the don’t judge me, I can do whatever I want mentality, then we ignore God and His Word. We have a responsibility, as Christians, to call sin what it is. A balance needs to be found somewhere. Otherwise, we fall into the trap of Hey. Do whatever makes YOU feel good. Who am I to judge? That’s very dangerous ground. It is more than OK to recognize sin in people’s lives (in a very gracious way) and try to help them out of it. As we make disciples (like we’re commanded to do), we challenge ourselves and others to become more and more like Jesus every day. That’s not being a hypocrite or a Pharisee. That’s loving your neighbor as yourself, if it’s done for the right reasons and with the right attitude.

There was a person I had to confront one time who was getting serious about their faith. They wanted to become a member and get baptized. I knew it was coming and I was dreading the situation. I was praying about it and asking God what to do. What it came down to was sin in that person’s life that needed to be dealt with. I couldn’t (with good conscience) allow this person to become a member or be baptized knowing that this was in their life. When I confronted this person about it, they ended up leaving the church. In the end, this person had no desire to fix the problem. They had become comfortable with it. They had accepted it. This person then accused me of judging, which broke my heart, because that wasn’t it at all!

In fact, I was ready to make all kinds of ways to help them overcome this problem. It wasn’t like I was saying change now, be perfect, and then I’ll baptize you. That wasn’t it at all. I was saying, recognize that this is a sin, let’s start working on it, and you can still become a member. You don’t have to be perfect to be a member of a church, but you do have to recognize sin in your life by calling it what it is. Again, the point is that we need to try to HELP each other with the right attitude. If someone does not want to change, it’s a heart problem.

That’s not being judgmental. That’s LOVE. A judgmental church would say, GET OUT. You’re not good enough. A loving church says, Come in and let us help. None of us are good enough. God can change all of us little by little over time. Do you see the difference? We have a No Judgment Zone at our church! Yet life is messy. Sin is messy. And we are here to help! However, the first thing we need to do is take a good look at ourselves. Then we can help the person next to us. That’s not judging. That’s biblical!

“Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load” (Gal.6:1-5 NIV).

Day 3

3. Once we have the right attitude, we can also discern who to share the gospel with (Matt.7:6). In my humble opinion, verse 6 is quite odd. Don’t waste what is holy on people who are unholy. Don’t throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you” (Matt.7:1-6 NLT). The ESV translation is even MORE odd. Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you” (Matt.7:6 ESV). What in the world does that mean? Did Jesus start to speak in tongues here or what? Where did this come from? Does this even fit into this passage? Yes it does. But it may take a little translating to understand what He’s talking about here.

At that time (and in that culture), dogs and pigs were considered unclean. They did not value dogs as we do today. Dogs were NOT cute household pets or man’s best friend. In addition, dogs were scavengers and pigs were considered vicious. Both were considered wild, and they were generally detested by people. That is definitely different from our rib eating and dog loving culture where the dog is curled up on the couch and where pigs are on the menu! Seriously, I don’t think I could have survived as a Jew due to my love of ribs and pulled pork! I kind of like dogs too, even though I really don’t want to clean up after one. I may have to bite the bullet though. My wife and I backed ourselves into a corner and promised our kids a dog after the big move from Pennsylvania to Maryland. You had to be there. There were tears when we first said we were moving. Then once a dog was mentioned (and a pool), Niagara Falls suddenly went dry!

The giving of what is holy here probably refers to sacred, sacrificial meat. Dogs, being unclean and scavengers, would not have appreciated holy meat. The dogs might’ve treated it like any other food found in the streets. The pearls wouldn’t be appreciated by pigs either. Pigs would eat food that had gone bad, and they certainly would have no appreciation for pearls like humans do (with the exception of Miss Piggy!). However, both of these illustrations symbolize what Jesus is talking about. He’s saying that we need to be aware of who we’re dealing with.

If we have the precious teachings of Jesus (God’s Word), and we are spreading the Good News of Jesus, we need to be able to determine who to share it with! We need to be discerning and recognize who may receive the message and who might try to do us harm and/or not appreciate the Good News. Otherwise, it would be like us throwing holy meat or pearls before pigs and dogs who don’t care. They might even try to attack us in the process! Basically, He’s summing up this section on judging with good, sound advice and a healthy warning. Despite the fact that we might have the best of intentions, some people have no regard at all for the things of God and they might try to hurt us in the process.

But aren’t we supposed to share the Good News with everyone? We can. But the point Jesus is making here is that we need to know when to stop. I’ve had plenty off occasions when I’ve realize that a certain person has absolutely no intention of coming to the faith. And on more than one occasion I’ve realized that some people can be quite hostile. I’ve had to stop myself and realize that a certain person isn’t going to budge. Only God can change someone’s heart. We are the bearers of Good News, but if people aren’t ready to hear it, or if they’re hostile to it, only God can change their heart. We have to know when to walk away and leave them in His hands.

The idea is that we should move on to the ones who WILL respond to the message and who WILL accept Christ. That’s why I don’t argue with atheists. Many of them already know the Good News quite well. They are very familiar with Jesus. Many of them started out as Christians, yet somewhere along the line, they lost their faith. Moreover, their present intention is to UNCONVERT you while singlehandedly destroying Christianity (not going to happen though). Nevertheless, at some point we need to be able to walk away when God says, “You’re casting your pearls before pigs. Go over there and speak to the one who WILL respond.

Sometimes we simply have to make the tough choice and move on. We can still try to build a friendship with them if they are willing. But I’ve never had any success arguing someone into heaven. It doesn’t accomplish anything. God has to be working on their hearts. We can still reach out in love. But if, over time, we are not getting anywhere, we may have to move on. They might only want to hurt us.

Moreover, we do have a biblical basis for walking away. “On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying. Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: ‘We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles’” (Acts 13:44-46 NIV; c.f. Mark 16:15-16; Mark 6:7-11).

Day 4

Before you robe yourself in black and pick up your gavel, consider these 4 ways to make a good judgment call:

1) HELP Someone. The point of the judgment is to HELP someone, not to harm them. If you have no desire to do that, you have no right to judge. Judgment in this sense is positive because it is meant to restore. Negative judgment that assumes a better than thou mentality is flat out wrong. Love needs to be the center of any judgment made. So in that sense, we are loving someone enough to HELP them.

Consider the old expression about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. Try to understand the person and situation BEFORE rushing to an unfair judgment. First understand where they came from and how they got there (Phil.1:9-11; Eph.4:15-16). During the investigation, it might be discovered that there is something going on behind the scenes that might not be obvious at first glance.

A few years back, during the first week of school, I was having trouble with one of my bus runs. My run was long and I couldn’t make it to the school on time. I kept getting calls over the radio about one particular kid missing the bus. And my supervisor kept on me all morning, yet I couldn’t figure out why. We had already talked about the situation and I thought we had the problem corrected, but she kept hassling me about it and asked me to come see her after my run. So I asked myself, Why is she being all cranky? Why is she singling me out? I was getting a little upset.

But what I later found out is that she had a staff member screaming at her in her office about this kid who kept missing the bus (it was the staff member’s child). At the time, I didn’t know that was going on behind the scenes. So while it seemed she was picking on me and giving me a hard time, that was NOT the case. She was trying to protect me and get the correct information to get this person off her back! Little did I realize that I was being taught a valuable lesson in not rushing to judgment. Things are not always what they seem at first glance. We need to be patient, gather all of the facts, and allow sufficient time to pass before rushing to judgment.

2) HELP Yourself. If you struggle with something and try to “help” someone else with the same thing, or negatively judge them in some way, you’re being a hypocrite. Get your act together first, and then you can help. You may not even realize you’re being a hypocrite. The Bible makes that point clear: “you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: ‘God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you’” (Romans 2:21-24 NIV). So let’s remove the LOG from our own eyes first and then help someone else remove the piece of dust from their eye. Sound familiar?

3) HELP Truth Prevail. Sometimes judgment is necessary because sin is sin. We can’t redefine what sin is to allow everyone to be free to do whatever they want. When we do that, we miss the whole point of the Bible. When we do that, we mock Jesus and what He died for (our sin). That’s the part that breaks my heart. But sin is sin. We can’t redefine it. Yet we can still love people, pray for them, and hope that God will change their hearts. The Holy Spirit is perfectly capable of convicting someone of their sin and steering them in the right direction. We need not place guilt trips or extra burdens on people that we are not willing to help with (Matt.23:4).

His ultimate judgment is coming. It is true and it is just. Therefore, it is our responsibility to present the truth of God’s Word without a negative judgmental attitude. We can love people where they are and pray that God will one day transform their hearts and minds. “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?” (Romans 2:1-4 NIV). Let’s call sin what it is. However, let’s deal with ours first and then help others. Help truth prevail.

4) HELP Spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. Once we have the right heart when it comes to judging, we can also discern who we need to share the Good News with. If we spend all of our time with hostile people who will never accept Christ, we may actually hinder someone else from being saved. Jesus says here that we need to go to those who will respond. If we are failing over and over again with one person, or one group of people, it may be time to move on to someone else. It’s OK to do that. Not everyone will accept Jesus. Sometimes the best thing to do is move on as we HELP spread the good news of Jesus Christ!

Day 5

Questions to consider…

1. What are your spiritual pet peeves? What do people do that irritates you and stirs you to judgment (Christians and non-Christians)?

2. What is your biggest ongoing sin as a Christian? What do you struggle with the most?

3. Have you ever tried to force a square peg into a round hole with someone? Have you ever tried to force something that wasn’t there when sharing the Good News? Please explain.

Running into the Fire: Overcoming Anxiety, Stress, Worry, Doubt, and Fear

“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life-whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today” (Matt.6:25-34 NLT).

Day 1

Have you ever sat through a sermon and thought that it was directed specifically to YOU? Was the perfect message directed right at you, seemingly handwritten by God, at just the right time? As I sit at my computer typing these words, my anxiety levels are off the charts. Some people are known as worry-warts. My mom was a worry-wart. So technically, I guess I can blame her, her DNA, and the DNA of my ancestors! Needless to say, I worry a lot. I know (as a Christian) that God will provide for my needs, but for some reason I still worry.

Recently, my family and I just made a major move. We moved into a new neighborhood, in a different state, and are endeavoring to start a new church. In fact, this is actually our second church plant. So on one level, I’m super excited and can’t wait to see what God will do. However, on so many OTHER levels, I’m worried. My mind constantly races with ten thousand things that could go wrong. What if our other houses don’t sell? We actually have three houses. We were renting one out. Unfortunately, the renter just told us two days ago that they’re moving out! Furthermore, we just moved into house number three two weeks ago. So what if something goes wrong? We don’t really have much wiggle room in our budget.

In addition, I woke up two weeks ago with a bad sore throat and thought I was coming down with pneumonia! Needless to say, I’m in worst case scenario mode. What if this happens? What if that happens? People who don’t struggle with anxiety simply do not understand. They say really dumb things like Don’t Worry, Be Happy. They might even start to sing that annoying song by the same title. And they laugh as they quote Scripture like it should take all of our problems away just because they quoted Scripture. Clearly, they’ve never had problems or have ever struggled with anxiety. It takes all I have not to punch those people. So I smile and brush them off and hope they go away. Has that ever happened to you?

You might ask, Why would you do things like planting churches if you struggle with anxiety? Why would you put yourself in that situation? The answer is that I also have the gift of faith. I know it seems like an oxymoron type of situation, but it’s true. It’s as true as the blockbuster comedian who suffers from depression. It’s as true as the great Bible character of faith, Abraham, who at the same time struggled with doubt. It might seem odd at first glance. However, once you look into it, it makes perfect sense. Of course we struggle with the very thing we’ve been gifted to do because Satan likes to get in the way and tempt us and derail us from doing what we were designed to do. Unfortunately, we are all broken. We all live in the same sin-cursed world.

But the truth is that we can overcome doubt, depression, anxiety, fear, and worry. But we can’t overcome it by running from it and/or avoiding it at all costs. We overcome it by running into the fire! We overcome it by doing the very thing we’re afraid to do! And that brings us to our Scripture today as Jesus talks about worry. Jesus tells us not to worry. Why? Because He knows we’re stressed out! He’s not an idiot. Yet He’s not simply saying, Don’t worry, be happy. He’s aware that there is so much that can go wrong each day in ordinary matters, not to mention the extraordinary: natural disasters, sickness, and financial collapse. Yet He’s going to dive under the surface and tell us WHY we need not worry. And He’ll tell us how to overcome it as well. So this week, as we ponder this passage, set aside everything you think you already know and be open to learning something new as Jesus answers our deepest question about worry: Why should I not worry when there is so much to be worried about?

Furthermore, we can’t forget the context. In the previous verses, Jesus lays the foundation for what He’s about to say. He mentions the fact that we can’t serve God and money. He said that we need not store up treasures in this life. We need to store up treasures for the life to come. Heavenly treasures are the ones that will last. If we focus too much on the treasures of the here and now (jobs, houses, money), that’s what will dominate our lives and thoughts. Needless to say, riches can vanish in the blink of an eye. Yet people (including yours truly) constantly stress out about it. So what do they do? They work overtime. They put more money in the bank. They constantly WORRY about what could go wrong.

That’s why we, as believers, need to remind each other to focus on what really matters and trust that God will provide. And that’s precisely why Jesus starts with the basic necessities (like food) while answering our first question: Why should I not be worried about what I will eat (Matt.6:25-27)? Jesus previews His point by stressing that we are not to be worried about the basic necessities of life (like food and clothing) because life is so much more than that (Matt. 6:25). What does worry mean anyway? It doesn’t just mean that we’re concerned about something. It means that we’re overly concerned about something. It’s fine to be concerned. That’s just part of being human.

However, once it dominates our thoughts and actions, concern becomes anxiety. When we’re so focused and distracted about something that we start to freak out, we’ve crossed over from concern to anxiety. In short, the kind of worry Jesus is talking about here disrupts the flow of our lives and governs our time and emotions in an unhealthy way. Moreover, the kind of worry He’s talking about is active and continual over time. Yet He jumps in and says that we are not to worry. We are not to be actively stressed out about the basic necessities.

Now that we know the definition of worry, why should we not be worried about what we will eat? Because God provides! Jesus uses the image of birds being fed by God. So if birds don’t stress out about their 401k’s, savings accounts, and where their next meal is coming from, why should we? If God takes care of birds, don’t you think He’ll take care of us? Of course He will! And in my case, He always has! I don’t say that lightly. And I don’t take that for granted. But God has always provided for me and my family. We have never gone without the basic necessities. So why do I stress out so much? Unfortunately, it’s simply a lack of faith.

In verse 27, Jesus makes another great point. He says that worrying can’t add anything to our lives. It’s not going to solve anything. It’s not going to tack any time onto your life. It’s not going to help at all. So why worry? In fact, worrying does the exact opposite. I would argue that it robs you of valuable time. Being stressed out all the time probably shortens our lives and increases the chance of heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, and panic attacks! In my experience, I have had the latter two because of stress and I can testify that it doesn’t help at all! To be sure, God knows we need to eat. He’s not stupid. If He provides for birds, He will certainly provide for His children.

So take some time today to pray that God will give you the strength to trust in Him, the peace to follow through, and the courage to live courageously despite any anxiety. And then sit back and see what He does. Because of my current situation (selling our houses, planting a new church), I’ve been praying for peace. And a few weeks ago, I had to chuckle. God literally gave me peace. Some friends of ours, in our old Missional Community, gave us a Christmas gift. It might’ve of seemed like nothing much to them. But it meant much to me. It was a Christmas ornament that had one word written on it. I bet you can guess the word. It simply said Peace. Aside from making me laugh, it gave me the confidence to know that God is with me, He has my back, and He will provide. I don’t need to worry. Pray for peace.

Day 2

Why should I not be worried about what I will wear (Matt.6:28-30)? This point isn’t all that different from the first. However, Jesus presents another brilliant illustration for us to remember. Instead of birds, this time around He asks us to consider flowers. If God causes the lilies of the field to grow and He clothes them, with no effort on their part, won’t God provide our clothing? Of course He will! He adds that Solomon wasn’t dressed as beautifully as those flowers yet God cares for us and will provide for us even more than flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow! So we don’t need to worry because He will provide.

Furthermore, the whole Bible points to the fact that we were made in the image of God. We were the crown jewel of His creation. We were created to have a relationship with God and with each other. Needless to say, God loves us and cares for us. So He will take care of us, His children. That alone should give us the peace we seek. That should alleviate our anxiety. But then Jesus asks the real question: Why do you have so little faith? In fact, the word that Jesus uses there stresses the weakness and size of our faith (small). The problem, when we stress out, isn’t God. The problem is our lack of faith. When we stress out, we have a trust problem.

The root of anxiety is unbelief” (D.A. Carson). Let that thought sink in. Truer words have never been spoken. When I stress out, my natural reaction is to work harder. Religious people are good at that. We think that by our hard work, God will be happy with us and give us what we want. But hard work isn’t what God asks for. In fact, Jesus makes that plain and clear. He says that the lilies of the field don’t work for what they get from God. Yet He provides. Jesus isn’t asking us to worry and work harder. He’s asking us to chill out and trust in Him. He’s asking us to avoid extremes. He’s not saying be lazy. He’s also not saying work yourself to death. He’s saying relax. Don’t stress out. Trust Me.

Consider a couch. At the end of the day, when you’re tired, what’s the point of a couch? Is the point to sit on it and worry about whether or not it will do what it’s designed to do? I think not. The point is to flop down and relax. The point is to sit down (or take a nap)! If you stay standing and wonder if the couch will hold your weight, you miss the point of having a couch. If you sit on the couch and continue to worry, you miss the point. Just sit down and chill out!!! Chances are it will hold you just like it did the last time! Faith is when we sit down and receive what the couch offers. We can’t provide comfort on our own, but the couch can and does.

Considering my own present struggles, God has reminded me of the first time I planted a church (5 years ago). I was counting on my wife’s income to help us get started. She was going to continue to teach as I started to meet people and get the church set up. It sounded like a convenient plan! However, God had other plans. Right before we decided to move, Olivia got laid off. You can imagine how much stress ensued (not unlike our current three house situation)!

Yet God provided every step of the way. We decided to move anyway. I told you I also have the gift of faith! And despite our worries, we trusted God would provide, and He did! He allowed us to rent a house (and rent out our house), even without an income! Somehow our new landlord agreed to rent to us even though I had no reportable income! God is truly amazing. And He provided. Within a short amount of time, everything was restored. Olivia got un-laid off. I also started driving a school bus during that time, which was the whole point. The people I met through bus driving is what God used to start our church! God knows what He’s doing. He will provide. All we need to do is trust Him!

Day 3

Why should I not be worried about what everyone else worries about (Matt.6:31-34)? Jesus makes a great point in verses 31-32 while making an important distinction. He says not to worry about things like food, drink, or clothing because God already knows what we need. But the important thought here is that He says that unbelievers stress out about those things. Believers need not stress out about what non-believers stress out about because we are God’s children.

Think about your own children. It’s not that other people’s children are not important, but don’t you focus on YOUR own kids more? Don’t you as a parent make sure they’re taken care of and have everything they need? Of course you do! So Jesus is making an important distinction here. We are God’s children! And in the same way that a parent loves and cares for a child, so God takes care of us! We’re not just random people off the street. We are children of God. And if we have God-Almighty looking out for us, we have no need to worry!

So Jesus concludes by telling us what we really need to focus on. Instead of stressing out about silly things, we need to seek God’s kingdom and live a righteous life. That’s our part. That’s our job. Then God’s part (God’s job) is to provide for our needs. However, Americans are terrible at that! We are horrible at minding our own business. Does it ever get on your nerves when someone picks apart everything you do, while not doing what they’re supposed to do? That drives me up the wall! It also drives me crazy when people can’t keep their nose out of other people’s business. They tend to notice all the faults of other people while ignoring their own.

Yet when we stress out about the basic necessities, that’s exactly what we’re doing to God. We’re somehow trying to tell God how to do His job. But I’m pretty sure He’s been doing this longer (and better) than us for thousands of years! He is more than capable of taking care of us. And if we focus on our task (seeking His kingdom and righteous living), He’ll take care of His end of the deal (providing for our needs). Thus there’s no need to worry.

Finally, Jesus wraps a bow around this whole section by reiterating that we shouldn’t worry about tomorrow. In fact, we should concern ourselves about today first and leave tomorrow where it is. We simply need to take it one step and one day at a time. I went through this very thing with my first church plant. I found myself stressing out about things that were out of my control and things that were not part of my job description. I was worried about who was going to come to our Sunday services and how to make something out of nothing (with no money). In short, I was worried about results.

However, God never asks us to be responsible for the results. That’s His job! I can’t control results. Only God can. He does tell us to focus on making disciples, but even then, we can’t control who is going to come to the faith. We simply need to share the Good News! But the results are up to God. He’s the One who provides money for the budget and brings the people. The results are up to Him. We just need to seek His kingdom and live righteously!

Day 4

I typed in the words “stress” and “worry” into Yahoo Images a few years back and most of the images that popped up had something to do with ripping out hair and/or a screaming face. Since I no longer have hair I can’t relate. However, I can relate to the screaming face! It was Paul who wrote, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil.4:6-7 NIV). There’s that word again: peace. When we stop relying on ourselves (and focusing on our woes) and we start relying on God (through faith), He gives us peace. He stills our hearts. He calms our fears.

It doesn’t mean our fears just vanish. The fear is still there. The anxiety is still there. But we don’t need to stress and give in to those fears once we give them to God. He takes over the burden once we give it to Him. “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7 NIV). So how do you overcome anxiety, stress, worry, doubt, and fear? YOU don’t. We run straight into the fire of faith and God takes over from there. We hand over all our stress to Him and He delivers us THROUGH the fire. He never promises to save us FROM the fire. But He will deliver us THROUGH the fire of fear. It always comes down to faith.

So why should I not worry when there is so much to worry about? Because God knows what our needs are and will take care of us. We need to stop wasting our time worrying and let God do His job. So what is OUR job? Now that we’re not wasting time spinning the wheels of worry, what do we do now with this information? Jesus already told us what to do. It’s written directly into the passage. “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” (Matt.6:33 NLT).

1. Seek the Kingdom. God never told us to stress out about our life. We do that naturally on our own. But He did tell us to seek His kingdom. Before Jesus left, He gave us a mission. He told us to make disciples (Matt.28:18-20). He never told us to constantly seek pleasure or happiness. But He did say true satisfaction was something that comes from Him: “My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life” (John 10:10 NLT). We could never attain true satisfaction in life on our own or from earthly endeavors. It all has to do with God and His NEVER ending kingdom. Our earthly pleasure and desires will pass away, but God’s kingdom is eternal!

Happiness has nothing to do with pleasure. It has to do with purpose. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:24-26 NIV). Seek God’s kingdom rather than your own and then check your happiness meter over time!

2. Live Righteously. Are you seeking righteousness or your own pleasure? “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his son” (Rom.8:29 NIV). A lot of us still suffer from the genie in the sky mentality. Somehow, we reason that we will get whatever we want from God if we behave better. Or we somehow believe that if God does something for us first (like remove our anxiety), then we’ll serve Him. But that’s not how it works. For the highly religious people, they feel guilty if they don’t behave properly. They think that perhaps God is punishing them because they are not performing as well as He wants them to. They think that blessings and peace are related to their performance. Nothing could be further from the truth.

God wants us to live righteously because He knows what’s best. He knows that the true blessings in life come from being focused on Him and His righteousness. He’s not waiting to strike us down with a lightning bolt when we mess up. He’s waiting to give us peace when we finally realize our true potential while living a righteous life and developing a deep relationship with Him and His people in the church! Jesus barely had two pennies to rub together when He lived His life on this earth, yet He was the most calm and satisfied person on the planet. He certainly knew the purpose behind seeking God’s kingdom and living righteously! How do we start living righteously? Spend time with God in prayer, His Word, and with His people!

3. God will cover the tab! Our God provides. That’s what he does! Read Genesis 22 tomorrow and pray about it. Give yourself time to process that story. God doesn’t expect us to provide. He simply wants us to TRUST Him. The secret to overcoming fear is FAITH! Never forget that faith goes hand in hand with fear. The fear will ALWAYS be there. It will NEVER go away. In this life, anxiety, stress, worry, doubt, and fear are always going to be present. So don’t be surprised if your faith and fear compete with each other. That’s why it’s called faith! If there was no worry, doubt, or fear, there would be no need for faith. But our God is mighty and powerful. And He provides. Just TRUST in Him. Have FAITH. And lighten up! It takes practice. So instead of beating yourself up, keep trying. Take that leap of faith several times over!

Day 5

Questions to consider…

  1. In general, what stresses you out? Why does it stress you out? What will happen if what you stress about doesn’t work out the way you want it to?
  2. How are you doing at seeking the kingdom of God?
  3. How are you doing at living righteously? Is your relationship with God and satisfaction in life directly related to the time you spend with Him, His people, and on His mission? Why?
  4. If we all focused on seeking God’s kingdom (living on mission) and living righteously, would we still have time for worry, stress, doubt, and fear?

A Bad Case of the Gimmies: Making Deposits to the Right Account

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is bad, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is! No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matt.6:19-24 NLT).

Day 1

Back in my younger days I used to do the Black Friday thing. Nowadays I avoid the crowds like the plague! It sickens my stomach to watch the news and read Facebook stories about people getting shot and trampled  on in the name of I have to have more stuff! It’s ridiculous. It’s so much easier to stay home, sip coffee, and order gifts with my smartphone. At least then I don’t need to worry that someone will kill me because I got to a parking spot sooner than they did. Needless to say, Americans have a bad case of the gimmies!

But it’s not a recent development. Man has been obsessed with money for thousands of years. In addition, we have many expressions in our vocabulary to confirm that we have a money problem. Can you think of any? I can think of a few off the top of my head. The man with the most toys wins. Follow the money honey. Money talks. Rolling in the dough! Money makes the world go round. Time is money. Filthy rich. Getting the most bang for the buck. The almighty dollar.

Obviously, we all have money on the brain. In one sense (in a very physical and earthly way), money does make the world go round because our entire lives and economy here in America and around the world runs on money: buying, selling, and consuming. Furthermore, we can’t have a house or put food on the table without money. We need to make money. We need to be able to stay afloat. We need to be able to pay the bills, have food on the table, and have a roof over our head. So in light of that, what is Jesus saying to us in this passage?

Riches in this life can vanish in the blink of an eye, but riches beyond this life will last, so make deposits in the greater bank account (Matt.6:19-21)! Jesus is talking about the difference between being rewarded in the here and now versus being rewarded in heaven. Ultimately, Jesus is asking where our priorities are and what we are putting our faith in. At that time, houses could be broken into pretty easily. There were no security systems, alarms, or laser beams to trigger an Intruder alert!

The walls of the houses were made of mud bricks. Thieves could easily dig through them and steal. Because of this, some people invested their money in different ways. Some invested their money with moneychangers. Some stored their money in temples where it would be much harder to steal. Some people would bury their money in the ground or in caves. Unfortunately, even all of that couldn’t protect some possessions. When Jesus talks here about moths and rust, He is referring to moths that can destroy valuable fabrics and rust that could destroy coins.

Nevertheless, Jesus isn’t saying that we can’t provide for our families. He’s not saying we can’t save money at all. But He is asking where our priorities are. He’s saying not to let our possessions be our sole motivator in life, because ultimately, those possessions won’t last. We need to store up our true treasures in heaven where they can’t get rusted, eaten, or stolen. True riches will last for an eternity. Furthermore, if we are only motivated by the pursuit of wealth, we are standing on shaky ground, because it could all be gone in an instant. Jesus wants us to be motivated by and pursue the things that will last.

Then He follows that up by saying, “Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” In this context, the heart represents who we are and what’s important to us. It represents what we desire and treasure most. So it makes sense when He says that our heart is where our treasure is. If our treasure is money, power, wealth, prestige, possessions, pleasure, greed, and the ambition to get ahead of everyone else, that’s who we are and that’s what we desire most.

If our heart yearns for something more than that, such as being generous, being willing to make sacrifices for the greater good, and looking out for someone else’s needs rather than just our own, our hearts are in the right place. The reward for an attitude like that is going to stand the test of time. It will be a heavenly treasure that can’t be stolen or destroyed. It will last for all eternity.

Here’s a question that we all need to be asking ourselves: Do we own our possessions or do they own us? If we fight for and protect what we have all the time, they may own us. They could disappear at any time. That is a scary place to be. Living in constant pursuit of stuff and the fear of losing it all is not a healthy place to be. A heart that is troubled by that and is driven by that is a heavy heart that is just waiting for a wake-up call, a spiritual heart attack.

However, a heart attack isn’t always a bad thing. Thank God for modern medicine. Sometimes when we have a heart attack, or a serious look at our hearts, we can see what’s going on and what we need to fix. It could be a problem with our diet, more exercise, or that we simply need to pursue a healthier lifestyle. There may be some things that we need to change if we want to live longer, if we want our hearts to hold out. The same can be said spiritually. Jesus is giving us all a heart check up to see where we’re at and what we might need to change about our outlook on our lives, our money, our possessions, and our desires.

Some people say that this is too personal. When it comes to money, some people don’t want to change. Their whole life is wrapped up in it whether they care to admit it or not. So where is YOUR heart when it comes to money and possessions? Do you try to protect your stuff at all costs? Are you obsessed with money? Are you counting who owes you money? Does it drive you? Do you always have to make that extra buck? Do you always have to get just one more thing? Are you ever satisfied with what you already have?

Jesus is stressing that the greater rewards are to come when we keep things in the proper perspective, and He is saying that we don’t need to be materialistic or selfish. We need to be generous. And I’m not just talking about rich people either. There are no stereotypes when it comes to money. The stereotype would be that rich people are selfish and poor people are not. However, that’s not always the case.

I have seen extremely generous “rich” people who would give you the shirt off their back, and I have seen extremely materialistic and selfish “poor” people. I’ve seen plenty of underprivileged people get handout upon handout and then spit in someone else’s face when they don’t pay up. There are many sides to the coin, but here is the key, no matter what your bottom line is: God will provide for our needs. “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19 HCSB). 

As His children, God will provide for our needs. Our bottom line doesn’t really matter. What matters is where our heart is. That’s where our treasure is. “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness” (1 Tim.6:10 NIV; c.f. James 5:1-5). With one stroke of a computer key, thieves can break in and steal. With one bad investment our money can be gone. Credit cards can drain us dry, and loans can kill us with just one bad day. Riches in this life can vanish in the blink of an eye, but riches beyond this life will last, so save up in the greater bank account!

Day 2

The way you view the world (worldview) is the way you will live your life (Matt.6:22-23). The illustration that Jesus gives here represents Jewish thought at that time. They believed that a “good” (HCSB; NIV) eye or a “healthy” (ESV) eye meant that the person had a generally generous attitude when it came to money. A “bad” eye meant that the person had a generally stingy attitude when it came to money. Either way, it had to do with the perspective each person had when it came to money.

A bad eye refuses to let the light in, so it stays in the darkness. A bad eye won’t see the error of his ways because he refuses to let the light in. It has no chance of seeing what it needs to see, whereas the good eye does. It is full of light. In the end, a healthy eye means devotion to God and a generous spirit; however, a bad eye represents moral decay and a stingy heart that won’t invest in what is truly important. It is only concerned about itself.

Think of it as wearing eyeglasses. If our vision is not 20/20, we need to see the eye doctor. He will most likely prescribe a pair of glasses that are custom made to make you see clearly. Some of us might like to wear them and some of us might not like to wear them. Regardless, it affects our sight. Sometimes, wives prefer to keep their glasses off by choice and try to imagine their husband as they used to be: thinner, less wrinkly, more hair, and thinner! They go for the blurred look to soften the pain of what they see.

When there’s too much light, we like to wear sunglasses so we can see better and drive safer as we speed down the road (while looking cool). My favorite thing is spy glasses. My kids got a pair one time that were not only sunglasses, but allowed you to also see what was behind. That was pretty cool, although it made me a little nauseous and confused. In this Scripture, Jesus is offering us something very special. He’s offering us corrective lenses that will allow us to see the truth.

Which pair of glasses are you wearing? Are you already wearing corrective lenses? Or do you refuse to consider the truth of what Jesus is talking about? If so, you will never get this memo, and money will still own you. God wants us to see the things that are truly important. When we take away money’s power and hold on us, we are free to live our lives in such a way as to please God. We can start to honor Him with what we have instead of fighting to keep it all to ourselves and protect our wealth. Looking over our shoulder all the time to protect our money is a cold, lonely, and stressful place to be.

The way you view the world (your worldview) is the way you will live your life. A person’s worldview is the way they think and act based on a certain set of predefined beliefs. It is how they view the world. So the person who is driven by money will do things that are in line with the pursuit of more money. And that pattern will continue unless something or someone comes along who can change or alter that worldview. It’s where someone would come along and offer that person a new pair of glasses to help them see better.

Somewhere along the line, in the movie Jerry Maguire, light bulbs started going off in his head. Jerry started to see the importance of the relationships in his life, and other people started to see it too. At that point, the pursuit of contracts and clients seemed to become less important than the pursuit of the relationship he was forming with his lone client, his girlfriend, and her little boy. Then we get to that famous scene where he comes in and she says, “You had me at hello.”

In the end, relationships win out over money. But then they get the money anyway as a nice bonus. That’s the point Jesus is making here. He wants us to see what’s important. Money isn’t in and of itself bad or evil. It’s the love and pursuit of it as a means in and of itself. Jesus is saying that He would rather have us honor God with our lives and use what He provides in a healthy way that is in line with His will.

It was Jesus who also said this: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done” (Matt.16:26 NIV). Which one would YOU choose? The temporary or the eternal?

Day 3

We must decide whether we will follow the money or follow the one who owns it all (Matt.6:24). Jesus gives one last illustration here to make His point. Although in this translation, the word “serve” doesn’t do His point justice. Some translations use the word “slave” (HCSB), which in this context is a better choice. Now I know the word slave conjures up negative connotations in our day and age (as it should), but the point He is trying to make is that a slave serves one master only. When you are a slave, you do what your master says. You work for him only. If you have two masters, your interests are divided and it doesn’t work out. It doesn’t really benefit either master. The slave needs to serve one master.

And then He lays out what He’s really talking about. He’s talking about us being a slave to God or being a slave to money. The word money here could also mean possessions. So in all of these points, He keeps the issue alive of deciding whether or not we are going to be pursuing money and things or pursuing God’s will for our lives. He wants us to use the money He provides in ways that will honor Him. So in that sense, money is also a master that we could follow. But He says that we can only pick one. He’s giving us a choice.

Eventually, we will all have to make tough choices. We may be able to serve both for a while, but the day will come where the roads diverge and you will have to make a choice who you will serve. Jesus is asking us to make a choice. We need to either collect possessions and store up money that will pass away, or we need to collect treasures that we will see at a later date, yet will stand the test of time. That, my friends, is the road less traveled! That is the Narrow Road that Jesus is talking about. It’s not all that different from saving in a 401K now and benefiting later, or buying the Sports Car now, letting it wear out, and getting our fun now. Unfortunately, that’s over and done in a few years. It doesn’t last.

What’s worse about possessions is that it’s never enough. As soon as we get stuff, we want more. As soon as we have the sports car, we want something else. We see this in our kids, but we don’t see it in our own lives. My kids always want some new toy that’s just so cool and they just gotta have it. But two days after they get it, they’re tired of it and they want something else. They’re no longer satisfied. That’s what the pursuit of money and possessions leads to.

You’re never satisfied. You always want more money, more possessions, a bigger paycheck. Then you spend all your time protecting your wealth and possessions, paranoid that somebody’s gonna steal something. That has not changed in 2,000 years since Jesus said these words. That’s a universal problem that transcends time and space.  And Jesus says that we have to make a choice. We can follow the rest of the world and take the road that everybody takes, or we can choose the Narrow Road, which makes all the difference in God’s eyes.

Jesus doesn’t give us the option here of doing both. God doesn’t give us the option of sharing our devotion. We have to make a choice. And you might think that’s not fair or that you can do both. But it’s like trying to be in love with more than one person. It just doesn’t work. We can’t have two husbands or two wives. If you try to divide your love like that, someone’s going to get hurt. There are plenty of examples of that in the Old Testament!

Remember the scene in Indiana Jones part 3 where Indiana had to choose which cup was the Holy Grail? The first guy chose the one that looked the best and was made of a precious metal. Indiana Jones knew that Jesus was a carpenter and he chose the one that resembled the work of a carpenter. And he made the right choice. He chose wisely. The guy who chose the flashy one died. He chose poorly.

So what’s the bottom line? We don’t own anything. Everything in this life is temporary. God owns it all: “for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are mine. If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me: (Psalm 50:10-15 NIV).

Now the first part of that Scripture tells you Who owns it all: God. The second part tells you how to apply it. Psalm 24 says something similar: “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters” (Psalm 24:1-2 NIV; c.f 19:1-2). It’s all God’s. Now He happens to choose to let us use some of His wealth. He’s pretty good at sharing. But it’s all His. And we need to use what He has shared with us to accomplish His purposes.

We must decide whether we will follow the money or follow the one who owns it all. Whether you have a lot or a little, God owns it all. If money is your focus, you don’t own your possessions, they own YOU. And you will live in constant fear of losing them. If God is your focus, you still don’t own your possessions, but it shows that God owns you.

Day 4

So here are a few tips on how to apply this passage. Perhaps you can think of more. Feel free! Let your imagination soar as you learn to be generous. Practice Acts of Random Kindness (ARK). Instead of buying another toy, if you see that someone has a need, go ahead and fill it. As Jesus has already pointed out, it doesn’t need to be announced with trumpets. You can do it in secret. Just fill a need that someone has.

Don’t worry about being paid or paid back. When you do something for someone, just do it because it’s the right thing to do. You don’t always have to be paid for everything you do. If someone needs a babysitter, do it for free. If someone needs something that you can do, whether it’s fixing a car or sowing a button, do it for free and be a friend.

Missions Giving. Have you ever considered adopting a missionary? As Christians, and as a church, our job is to tell the lost and teach the found. It’s why we’re here: to make disciples. It starts right where YOU are and goes out to the whole world. Missionaries are on the front lines. They move their whole family to a foreign country and start to spread the gospel. It is no easy task and they are usually in great need of support through prayer and (you guessed it) money. Consider supporting a missionary. In addition, there’s missionaries in your own back yard. In America, we call them church planters. They move from place to place and start new churches while making new disciples. So give to a church planter!

Be thankful for what you do have and count your blessings. Not all of us have the money to do all that I just mentioned. Some of us might be down on our luck. Yet we still don’t need to be greedy. We don’t need to give up or be mad at God. He wants us to trust Him to provide for us and to take care of our needs. A positive attitude will go a long way; however, we can still apply these principles. We still don’t need to be paid for everything. We don’t need to have a woe is me mentality. We need to trust God. He owns it all. He gives and He takes away. We still need to be thankful for what we have. And having Jesus is the most important of all!

Tithing. I saved one of the hardest ones for last! Tithing simply means a tenth. We give a tenth of our income to God. This is one of the most tangible ways that we can show that we are depending on God to take care of us, that we trust Him with our money, that we are thankful for what He has provided us with, and that we are not married to our possessions. Even when we do give a tenth, He’s still letting us use 90% of His money. It’s not that much to ask.

And that tenth helps to support the church. It supports the staff, local outreach activities, missions around the world, it pays the bills of the church, and it allows us to keep the lights on. Tithing is something that the Bible says is important. It’s not optional. The local church stays afloat through the tithes and offerings of the people that call it their home.

For those that don’t tithe (or think they can’t afford it), I like to point them to Malachi 3:8-12. God basically says, Test me on this. Tithe and see how I will bless you. God wants to bless us, but we have to trust Him first. That begins with tithing, even if we think we can’t afford it. A good rule of thumb (if you don’t currently tithe) is to start with 5% and build up to 10% over time. If you only give one or two percent now, double it. And keep increasing it every few months until you get to 10%.

For those that already give 10%, go beyond the tithe. That’s really where the New Testament writers assume we are. A 10% tithe is assumed. So when they mention giving, they’re talking about going above and beyond the tithe. You can’t out-give God! Your money is secure. Your heavenly treasures are much more valuable than anything you own on earth. Once you start tithing, you might actually find that you enjoy giving and you will be blown away by the blessings God sends in your life. Deposit your money in a bank that will last (Prov.23:4-5; Proverbs 15:16-17; Matt.22:21)!

Christmas giving! As I write this, we are 14 days away from Christmas. And Christmas is a fantastic time to overcome a bad case of the gimmies. Here’s just a few suggestions: Plan a Christmas where you give only modest gifts to friends and family (like under $20). Do a thrift shop Christmas (that will really keep the cost down)! Ask your spouse/family not to get you anything for Christmas. Instead, if they really want to give, tell them to give it to someone in need. And instead of giving to people that really don’t need anything, give gifts to people in need.

A great way to actually give Jesus a gift (it’s His birthday anyway) is to give to someone who is truly in need. A way to make it sacrificial is for YOU to go without something (that you probably don’t really need anyway) so someone else can have a need met. What does that look like? You could pay someone’s rent, electric bill, food bill, water bill, etc. That way, instead of buying something that the person doesn’t really want or need, you are filling a need that will really help them.

Day 5

Questions to consider…

  1. Do your possessions own you or do you own them? Is it easy for you to loan something to someone? Are you constantly saving money or spending money? How bad do you suffer from the gimmies?
  1. If all of your money was gone would you (could you) still be happy?
  1. How does it make you feel that God owns it all and we don’t truly own anything? Has your worldview and/or actions changed as a result of this passage?
  1. What is your opinion on giving? Do you tithe? Do you give above and beyond the tithe? What do you think about going above and beyond the tithe for missionary giving and helping neighbors in need?